Letter : A-level triumphs no surprise

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The Independent Online
Sir: Amid all the public discussion about this year's A-levels, I do not recall any reference to the fact that those candidates from state schools were the first to cover a National Curriculum in English, Mathematics and Science - first to be tested at 14, then in new GCSEs and now in new A-Levels. (Independent schools are not required to follow the NC nor sit Key Stage tests at 14.).Wouldn't an improvement in all grades at A-level be therefore hoped for as a measure of the NC's success? Now that an improvement has happened, should we not be celebrating it?

In mathematics, the new A-level courses assume competence at National Curriculum level 7 (approximately C grade GCSE), whereas many entrants embarked on the course with Higher Tier awards at A* (=level 10) or A (=level 9). They clearly had a head start on their A-level work, with some topics being tested again in their A-level papers.

The new GCSE that my students tackled in 1994 contained questions as hard as in the O-level that I taught for nearly 20 years - in fact I used past O-level questions in their preparation. Their competence showed in their progress through the new A-level syllabus. If most had not then achieved very good A-level results on this new syllabus, I would have been looking for the reasons.


London N12

The writer is head of mathematics at a north London grammar school.