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LETTER:A-levels: unequal grading or falling standards?

From Mr Randhir Singh Bains

Sir: Sir Rhodes Boyson rightly questions (Another View: "Can A-levels really be better?", 18 August) the academic standards of present-day A- levels. As a mathematics lecturer, I am inclined to agree with Sir Rhodes and would like to add that A-level standards, especially in mathematics and physics, have consistently been on a downward spiral since the mid- Eighties.

Decline in academic standards, in my view, started with the abolition of O-level and its replacement by the GCSE. The GCSE syllabi, especially in mathematics and physics, are too open-ended and place little or no emphasis on developing a manipulative skill, which is extremely important for making any progress in A-level mathematics. The introduction of the GCSE thus increased the gap between the former O- and A-levels, thereby making the learning experiences of students equipped with GCSEs extremely unpleasant and frustrating.

To make the transition to the A-level course easier, Examination Boards could have followed only one of the two options: lower the A-level standard and make it academically more accessible to students with GCSE qualifications, or increase the length of the A-level course from two to three years. The latter option would have been very expensive and unpopular with students and parents. Examination Boards, therefore, took the easy way out and decided to water down A-level standards. The A-level mathematics syllabus introduced last year, which is a glorified version of the erstwhile O- level, is a testimony to this downward slide.

Yours faithfully,

Randhir Singh Bains

Gants Hill, Essex

19 August