Magazine article Public Finance

Taking a Level Measure

Magazine article Public Finance

Taking a Level Measure

Article excerpt

Sweeping criticisms, followed by ritual defences, have almost become part of the ?-level results season, the silly season to be blunt. Arguments about 'dumbing down' versus 'gold standard' can produce more heat than light. They also confuse, irritate and sometimes deflate pupils and students who have worked very hard over a two-year period, and their parents and families.

Individual successes in local schools - and the overall results - should of course be praised, scrutinised and looked at closely to see what, if any, improvements need to be made.

But rather than agonising over whether a 1% rise in the pass rate or a 4%-5% rise in g particular grade represents a golden educational future or the end of civilisation as we know it, there are far more basic and practical guestions that we should be asking about our A-levels.

Most important of all, what are they there for? What are we expecting them to tell us? Are they there to test the innate abilities of our students or to see how good they are at acquiring knowledge in a subject over a two-year period? Are they there to show how successfully students have acquired particular skills and techniques that will benefit them throughout life? Or are they there to drum in some basic building blocks of information about science, language, maths and the arts that will stay with them throughout their lives and ground them as intelligent and responsible citizens?

These sort of questions don't always hit the headlines in the same way as the 'ya-boo' exchanges about dumbing down or 'never better', but they are the ones that are crucial for our students' futures and the skills we are going to need from them in the twenty-first century working world.

A lot of talk comes out about what employers want from ?-level results. There's the yearly hand-wringing from the CBI or Chamber of Commerce about 'churning out' students with passes in 'irrelevant' subjects who can't write or spell or communicate properly. The same complaints often come now about the degrees those students acquire two or three years later.

But in my own Blackpool constituency, whose life-blood is tourism and small business, are Alevels or their equivalents in leisure, hotel management, marketing or business studies 'irrelevant' or 'Mickey Mouse'?

There is an acute shortage of qualified electricians, building and computer experts and even plumbers. Surely qualifications in these areas are just as valuable in providing skills and a guarantee of future employment as A-levels in media studies and psychology?

Where we have traditionally had a low stay-on rate past 16 at school and lower than average numbers continuing from ? …

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