Baccalaureate to shake up 'flexible' A levels

It’s always good to see someone taking policy issue seriously. A Yank in Ulster looks at a proposal by Estelle Morris in today’s Guardian, not to abolish A Levels as such, but to introduce a common standard International Baccalaureate-style diploma to run alongside A Levels – and let the schools chose which one to run with. With some of the elite Universities pulling their corporate hair looking for a reliable marker for excellence – it may just catch on. It may also challenge those schools currently shopping around for the test company believed to give the best A-level scores.

  • beano; EverythingUlster.com

    Aren’t the French talking about going in the opposite direction from their baccalaureate to an A-level type system?

    From what I understand one of the reasons university courses here can be only 3 years is because much of the introductory stuff that would be covered in first year in somewhere like the USA is covered at A-level.

    The only reason A-levels need an overhall is because they’re getting too easy!

  • David

    he only reason A-levels need an overhall is because they’re getting too easy!

    I find it quite interesting that no one has suggested over all these years that the standard of teaching might have gotten higher. When doing my alevels I found the older past papers especially in accountancy, computers and maths much easier to do than the more recent ones

  • Rhys

    The Welsh Assembly have piloted Baccalaureate, but it’s in the news today as half those on the pilot programme have dropped out.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/4153508.stm

  • pocohantas

    As someone who is waiting for her results on Thursday I resent anyone calling the A Levels ‘easy’! At the end of the day a 94% pass rate isn’t that surprising, you shouldnt really be taking an A Level if you cant get a pass in it! Certainly in my school you were not allowed to take an A Level unless you had at least a B in it at GCSE. (I also think im right in assuming a “pass” is A-E at A level, unlike the GCSE system of A-C).

  • Frank_Black449

    I’ve worked as an examiner and moderator on AS and A-level exams. I also have vivid memories of my own A-levels over a decade ago. Any claims that A-levels are getting easier are entirely bogus as far as I can tell.

    The problem isn’t that they’re too easy. It’s that too many people are taking them, applying themselves and passing. So A levels are no longer the sole preserve of the Middle Class. And we can’t have all those educated plebs threatening the existing order now can we?

  • pocohantas

    Universities understand that more and more people are achieving high grades, thats exactly why the BMAT and LNAT (law national admissions test, piloted this year) have been introduced. Not only are exams no easier than 10 years ago but there are now more of them!
    We students need a pat on the back, not a slap in the face as we are currently getting from the media.

  • Valenciano

    Beano, I don’t know about that. When I did politics at Uni the first year was largely a rehash of the A-level and therefore easier than the preceding year. The reason for this is that for many courses, students won’t have done the A-level in the course in question and thus it will be necessary to cover the stuff.

    As for easier, I think if true there are a number of factors. The demand for league tables hasn’t helped as it’s led to schools busting a gut to ensure that as many students as possible pass resulting in modular A-Levels and schools shopping around to do exams moderated by other Local Education Authorities. Although in a freedom of information era this is irreversible.

    But also, students and teachers are working harder to ensure better grades as good qualifications are much more highly prized and necessary for good jobs today than they were 30 years ago.

    Maybe the solution is to move to having a fixed % of people passing each grade thus having a peer to peer contest each year?

  • pocohantas

    Valenciano,

    I would certainly agree with your last comment above. I can’t see why it would be necessary to overhaul the entire system when such a simple solution would suffice.

  • looking in

    Reforming A-levels, highers whatever, will alwaysr esult in as many arguments and polarisations as the NI politcal process.

    As an academic myself (pretentious moi?) there is no ideal solution. There are faults with all, and people always fall through – though from personal experience the streamed comprehensive system, to me who experienced it, is the lesser of many evils.

    You just have to stop getting hung up on your “garmmer schools” – which from my practical perspective produce a product that is no better than any other system in operation in UK. Yes, there are great kids coming through, but at the same time there are dozens of rote taught exam passing robots incapable of independent thought, work or action as they have been spoon fed from prep school to A-level, and often with private exam coaching thrown into the mix.

    My first change to the whole system in eng. wales and NI would be to introduce one single exam board with one standard syllabus and one set exam – that way you can make it mathematically fair if we want to adopt the top 10% get A’s etc… it would also remove at one stroke a massive waste of public money and all the game playing at schools jockeying for notional improvement in uncomparable invalid league tables promlugated by government down to shyster press seeking to pray on parents paranoia.

    Memeo to self … why am I writing this – I ought to be getting on with my research – that is far more valuable that educating students who think Uni in NI is a tuesday-thursday activity with long weekend back with Mammy and daddy…

  • beano; EverythingUlster.com

    Just to clear up, I did my A-levels in 2001 so this isn’t a “Back in my day they were harder and we were so much better thing”. I think they’re too easy precisely because of my own recent experience! :p

    I’m tired of the whingers who deride anything that introduces competition as some sort of class snobbery. This isn’t about A-levels being the preserve of the middle class. It’s got little if anything to do with class. It’s about A-levels being the ‘gold standard’ they’re supposed to be rather than any moron leaving high school with A-level English yet being unable to spell or construct proper sentences (don’t say it doesn’t happen, I’ve seen it).

  • barnshee

    IF theA levels were of consistent standard over the year and the continuous improvement in results were valid then surely this “improvement” would be noted further down the line in improved success rates in professional exams (say accountancy)

    IF (as is the case ) there is no material differences in success rates over the years -could it be that the professional bodies who set their own exams are maintaining standards whilst they are falling elsewhere?

    (try 1958/9 maths papers in Pure and applied maths and see how you get on)

  • Alan

    I don’t get the idea of the exams getting easier at all. It’s all in the minds of journalists with their silly season hats on. Well done to anyone who sweated blood this year, its your big year just as it was mine once (too long ago to recall – when computers were things that you clicked switches on and then wound a handle to get an answer!!!)

    On the Bacca – It was used extensively in the integrated system and may still be used at Lagan. My only comment is that it seems unfair to arbitrarily force people to study a language or maths, even as a minor subject, if you are no good at either. It may be a good idea to speak a second language or shift a digit, but your future should not depend upon it.

    Mind you, is the Leaving Cert not similar to the bacca?

  • Alan

    I don’t get the idea of the exams getting easier at all. It’s all in the minds of journalists with their silly season hats on. Well done to anyone who sweated blood this year, its your big year just as it was mine once (too long ago to recall – when computers were things that you clicked switches on and then wound a handle to get an answer!!!)

    On the Bacca – It was used extensively in the integrated system and may still be used at Lagan. My only comment is that it seems unfair to arbitrarily force people to study a language or maths, even as a minor subject, if you are no good at either. It may be a good idea to speak a second language or shift a digit, but your future should not depend upon it.

    Mind you, is the Leaving Cert not similar to the bacca?