10 things you shouldn't believe about A levels
Here is my self-opinionated top ten of what not to believe:
1. A levels are getting easier. No, they are not. They are different from what we used to do and they dont test some of the skills that I personally value highly ('open ended' essay writing, for example). But the hard work required is just as it ever was.
2. More students get A grades because they are now better taught. No, I'm not saying teaching isn't better now (I honestly dont know). But I strongly suspect tar more students are getting A's because today's A levels have much clearer criteria, towards which it is easier to work (contrary to open ended essays).
3. More students get A grades because they are cleverer than they used to be. No, see 2 -- but I do suspect that they work harder, partly because it can be easier to work harder towards clear criteria (personally I think that this is lousy training for later, but that's another story).
4. Some A levels are easier than others. Well, this is a bit of a no and yes. I would tend to rate someone more highly for future academic success if they had As in Latin, Maths and Further Maths... than if they had As in (say) Media Studies, Health and Social Care, and Sport Studies (though I could be wrong). But there isnt a single spectrum here. The kid who gets a top A in Further Maths might be completely hopeless at Media Studies.
5. The brightest kids are those ones who manage to clock up As in six or seven subjects at A level. No way. This is the A level equivalent of stamp collecting. No one ever need more than 4 A levels -- and if that leaves them any free time, it would be the best thing intellectually to read novels, go to the movies . . . and grow up.
6. It is the job of the best universities to take into account that many disadvantaged state schools tend to underestimate their pupils' A level grades when they make predictions. That, at least is what John Dunford, head of the Association of School and College Leaders has been reported as saying. No it isn't -- or only in part. It would be more to the point if he got his Association to do something to rectify the problem at school level.
7. Things will be put right if we reintroduce the old style essay writing exam. Not entirely. Exams are ony as good as the examiners. The new-style 'clear criteria' exam can be marked by the relatively inexperienced (that's in part why they were invented). In the old days you could have that style of question, because you had relatively few candidates and a cadre of experienced examiners. Where will you find enough experienced examiners to take this on...?
8. The International Baccalaureate is much better than A levels. No. The grass on the other side always looks greener, but if we were to go over to this en bloc, you'd find just as many complaints. The breadth will be good for some, but not for others. There is no quick fix.
9. It is better for the country if more kids take Science and Maths at A levels (according to Schools Minister Iain Wright). No -- not necessarily. Or only if they want to, and that is where their talents lie. In the long term (and even in the short term I suspect) kids well educated in any subject are good for the country's success and economy. Forcing them to science only produces unwilling and bad scientists.
10. Geniuses pass their A levels at a preternaturally young age (there were a pair of 8 year old twins this year I believe, who got a B and a C in Advanced Maths). No, no, no. Maybe they are clever, but the reason they have had this exam inflicted on them is that they have preternaturally pushy parents.