Friday, December 01, 2006

A-level reform

Sorry I didn't blog about this when it was announced yesterday. Did anyone know it was coming? I'd heard about some aspects of the change but some were out of the blue for me. I've been supervising exams all day so you would have thought I would have used the time to mull over a profound reply; but in fact I spent it honing a useful new acronym which I will reveal in a moment.

So... what have we got?

1) The extended project. Knew about that one - seen the draft proposals too. As far as I can see, everyone at the moment more or less agrees that coursework is becoming meaningless because of a) the Internet and b) the drive to improve results, which means students' work is endlessly remarked and deadlines endlessly extended. So how does throwing a project into the mix improve the situation - surely it'll have the same weaknesses as coursework?

2) The specialised diplomas. Seen some of these too, specifically one to do with computer games, animation and multimedia. Here's the thing. There are many kids who want to be computer games designers or web designers because they like playing computer games and surfing the web. If they are going to be any use to the industry, they need to be mathematically literate and learn hardcore progamming, system design etc. In other words some A-levels, or an established rigourous vocational programming course like BTEC or similar. Does the computer industry really want a load of students who for one reason or another were not able to study hard maths or programming courses and were steered into these new diplomas instead? I can only comment on what I know.

3) The A*. Fine. No problem. Quite happy with that. For all I honestly care, divide the A-level grades into A-J or any other arbitrary number of grades. All I know is that
a) I will carry on teaching as hard as I can and
b) there will be benchmarks and league tables and some grades will be more important to the reputation of an institution than others (currently it's A-B, it used to be A-C, no doubt it will be A*- A before too long) The real issue about standards is tied up with resits and modularisation.

4) The International Baccalaureate. Well, the qualification would seem to be a good thing in itself but we know that we'll end up with a two or three tier system. We couldn't even tolerate having both polytechnics and universities, we had to rename so they were all the same... we're not going to be able to resist the temptation to label the IB as 'better' than A-levels. And unless you live in a megalopolis, the illusion of 'choice' is usually deceptive.

All this is very nice. However, we need to remember that all these reforms will play out in the light of the defining feature of our wonderful UK education system. Which is of course... league tables.

1) The extended project will be delivered in such a way that the results are as high as possible with minimum risk of failure. Colleges and schools will make sure that students choose projects that will safely guarantee good marks. So no risk, no flair. And if they aren't good enough, maybe they will need to be draft marked... and if you don't hand them in on time... we're not going to let you fail your A-levels for that, now, are we...

2) Diplomas. One question. Will they get better grades (using whatever agreed point equivalency they dream up) than A-levels? We're doing them.

3) A-levels just gained an extra grade that only the best of the best should earn? Right now, let's see your action plan for increasing the number of students gaining an A* in your subject.

4) The IB. Yes, it will be offered. And the pass rate will go up and up and up until people are complaining that the standards are dropping. Becuase the teachers will work and work until they find ways of delivering it with maximum exam success; and students who aren't likely to pass it will be steered elsewhere.

Will it solve the problems? Ultimately no.


Because of league tables, stupid


Anonymous said...

I live in a very rural part of England. In our parish magazine there are adverts for three web designers who live within walking distance of me.

Web designers = dole queue.

There are virtually no jobs as "video games designers" available. To be a game *programmer* requires miles beyond the ability of virtually every school pupil.

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