Letter: Michael Portillo's 'off-the-cuff' remarks on education standards abroad

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The Independent Online
Sir: While not wishing to lend any support to Michael Portillo's blatant xenophobia, he is certainly correct about the higher standards of A-levels when compared with the German Abitur. The comment from the German Embassy (report, 5 February) that the Germans 'have an equivalent to the A-level which is every bit as good' is a widely believed fallacy that needs to be firmly contradicted.

My three children attended German Gymnasium (secondary school) and two sat the Abitur. We removed our youngest daughter when she was 16 because of my alarm about the low academic standard. She went on to do her A- levels in England.

Intrigued by my concern, her Gymnasium teacher of mathematics and Latin asked me to obtain for him examples of A-level examination papers in those subjects. After very careful study of them, he wrote to me detailing the massive discrepancy between what was required of his students and what of British students. He admitted that his students would only be able to tackle a small fraction of the mathematics papers and 'maybe a little of the translation part of the Latin papers'.

May I suggest the German Embassy acquires the A-level German papers for a start and ask whether most Gymnasium students could tackle the literature paper.

Yours faithfully,


London, W14

6 February