Letter: A-levels: a scandalously outdated system, or an indication of excellence?

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Sir: The publication of the A-level results has been met with the usual outburst of subjective nonsense from people who ought to know better. On the one hand we have the Jeremiahs bemoaning falling standards, and on the other, we have those with vested interests in defending the system making ridiculous comparisons with such things as the gold standard and Rolls-Royce cars.

One cannot compare the present examinations with those of 10 or 20 years ago because the content and nature of those examinations has, in most cases, changed radically, and one is not comparing like with like. These changes have been made for educational reasons and do not represent a lowering of standards. If we are going to encourage more youngsters to stay on in full-time education, it is right to adapt the examinations to their needs and to developments within a rapidly changing society.

There is little doubt that it has become easier to achieve top A- level grades, but this is no reason to denigrate the efforts of the students who have worked hard to obtain these grades. If the boards had awarded fewer top grades, I suppose this would also have been interpreted as evidence of falling standards.

One of the principal reasons why the boards are awarding a higher percentage of top grades is, I suspect, that they are now run as profit-making businesses in direct competition with each other. This has meant that the boards are now much more helpful towards their clients, the schools, but it has also made them more willing to award higher grades for fear of losing those same clients.

It is ludicrous for the Minister of State at the Department of Education to say that A-levels are 'a world-renowned trade mark of Britain's educational excellence'. Does he have any statistical evidence to back this up, some league table nobody has heard of?

In fact, educationalists from other countries cannot believe that we persist with such an outdated system, encouraging scandalously early specialisation. In any other European country, young people will study at least six subjects before going to university.

One of the many disservices done to our country by Mrs Thatcher was to reject the Higginson report. There is an urgent need to implement this report and thus provide our youngsters with a broader and more balanced post- 16 education, and in so doing to abandon the A-level system completely.

Yours faithfully,

EDDIE ROSS

Colchester,

Essex

19 August

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