Viv Groskop: Don't bash A-Levels until you've sat one again

Notebook

Share

What grade would you get if you sat an A-Level? Judging by the press the beleaguered exams get, most people probably assume they could walk in off the street and get an A* in pretty much any subject. If they asked their dog to sit the paper.

It's with this climate in mind that exam regulators at Ofqual have just proposed reforms which could kick in from September 2013. "Modules" are to be replaced with end-of-year-exams. So no more coursework. AS Levels may be scrapped. Any qualification should have the support of at least 20 universities. And no one will be allowed to re-sit an exam more than once. (Er, why is this allowed anyway?)

Ahead of Ofqual's latest findings, however, the Russell Group raised concerns that maths coursework is too easy and that English Literature A-Level students are encouraged to develop "emotional reactions" when they should be concentrating on literary theory. Since when do you read a piece of English literature without having an emotional reaction? A big part of English is all about teaching you to articulate and question that, surely?

A-Level bashing has become a national sport for armchair experts who have not been near an exam paper in decades. It's funny, isn't it, how many people love slagging off qualifications but don't put quite as much enthusiasm into actually sitting the exams?

To prove a point, I took A-Level English Lit two years ago. I put the hours in because you can't avoid putting the hours in. You have to hand in thousands of words' worth of coursework. With bibliographies and everything. I sat several exams, some in January and some in June. Because if you want an A-Level nowadays, you have to pass the AS Level just to be able to sit the A-Level. I swotted and sweated.

In the end, my grade was A*. But it was bloody difficult. I wouldn't do it again. And I definitely wouldn't have wanted to sit four or five other subjects at the same time, as I would have been expected to if I was 18.

I do sympathise with the critics of A-Levels, I know from university lecturers that they have serious concerns about standards and, especially, about the fact that no one who is 18 seems to want to read an entire book to the end anymore. (The internet has done this, apparently.) It's not right that the pass rate has risen for 29 successive years.

But I also know what you have to learn to get an A-Level. And it's not nothing. The small print in both the Russell Group and Ofqual reports? A-Levels are "broadly fit for purpose". But that's not much of a story, is it?

We're failing in the sexism stakes

UK Plc is rapidly turning into one of the least feminist states on the globe.François Hollande has appointed women, including Aurélie Filippetti, pictured, to half the 34 new French cabinet posts and a quarter of the French parliament is now made of up of women. In the international female MP stakes (yes, this is a real poll at www.ipu.org), France has now moved from number 69 to 34 in the world rankings. Britain languishes at 54th, reading a copy of Zoo magazine and chomping on Big D peanuts.

I saw some actual Big D peanuts the other day. The more peanuts you buy, the more of the woman's body you see, celebrating that uniquely British synergy between active obesity and passive voyeurism. The woman was wearing a Union Jack bikini. It made me nostalgic. Until I remembered that you don't need to be nostalgic when nothing has changed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Zoë Ball says having her two children was the best thing ever to happen to her  

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn