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FEATURES - EDUCATION

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The constant claim that examinations are getting easier when A-level results improve has created the atmosphere tha...
The constant claim that examinations are getting easier when A-level results improve has created the atmosphere that led to this year's problems.

Adjusting grades has always occurred. The problem is made worse by secrecy. What ever happened to the idea examination papers should be returned to students, complete with the details of the marking? If that was done, students would have a clearer idea of where they went wrong and understand what the examination was actually testing.

This year the boards panicked when

it was clear more students had done exceptionally well. Instead of being pleased, we had the situation where course work which had already been assessed was downgraded. Some of the success was a result of the A/S levels which had broadened the curriculum and improved examination techniques. The opportunity to study more subjects after 16 was and is a welcome reform.

A-level is a very narrow examination. It is notoriously inaccurate in predicting degrees. No one should only be studying three subjects from the age of 16 to 18. Some depth is necessary but then so is breadth including shorter courses in areas like European languages.

A curriculum which is modular, designed for the individual, allowing for specialisation and a broad approach is what the 14-19 proposals will achieve (LGC, 27 September).

Examinations at 18 should not be

used mainly to decide which university students should attend but equip people for life. This should include employability skills and help the transition to further and higher education.

A revised school year based on six equal terms, with students receiving examination results in July so they apply to university on real results rather than predicted ones, would have helped considerably this year. The government needs to reform the system urgently, have probably one board operating in an open and accountable way and stop listening to people who claim examinations are getting easier. Students are now better taught, are learning more and leaving school at 18 better educated. Many people complaining about lower standards would fail the present A-levels because they are more difficult than when they sat them.

Education secretary Estelle Morris has in this matter done nothing wrong and the hunt the minister brigade has missed the point. The secrecy of the boards should be their target. Ms Morris intervened on the side of students and had a quick and effective inquiry. What is needed now are the long-awaited reforms at 14-19 so pupils are offered a more flexible curriculum to fit individual needs and talents. Course work and modular assessment is a key reform.

Let us stop claiming standards are falling when more students do well. In the past we undervalued many people's potential and too few achieved what they could. Education is for the many and not the few. It is time the examination system was modernised to reflect that.

Graham Lane,

Chair, Local Government Association's Education and Lifelong Learning Executive

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