Don't Be Hard on Pupils; Some Subjects More Difficult Than Others

The Journal (Newcastle, England), July 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Don't Be Hard on Pupils; Some Subjects More Difficult Than Others


Byline: Jule Wilson

EXAMINERS should take into account the difficulty of subjects like science and maths when marking compared to "easier" options like media studies, according to North East researchers.

The research, released today by Durham University, states that school-children studying science and technology subjects like maths, physics and chemistry find it harder to achieve the top exam grades than candidates of a similar ability studying subjects such as media and psychology.

Experts at the institution analysed and compared data from nearly a million pupils sitting GCSE and A-level exams and reviewed 28 different cross-subject studies conducted in the UK since 1970.

On average, the report, commissioned by the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society on behalf of Science Community Representing Education, reveals that subjects like physics, chemistry and biology at A-level are a whole grade more difficult than drama, sociology or media studies, and three-quarters of a grade harder than English, RE or business studies.

Report author Dr Robert Coe, deputy director of Durham University's Curriculum, Evalutaion and Management Centre, voiced concern that students may be persuaded to avoid the more difficult science and maths-based subjects.

He said: "We are calling for marking for harder subjects to take account of their difficulty, perhaps introducing a scaling system similar to that already used in Australia, so that some subjects are acknowledged to be worth more than others."

One film production company based in the North East said the research was largely irrelevant.

Tine Munk, production manager at Yipp Films, said: "For those considering a career in a field such as the media or something practical or creative, this report is irrelevant because people will always choose what they feel is right for them with regard to their own individual talents.

"If you're strong-minded you will do that anyway, regardless of how hard or easy it is meant to be. Working in such a competitive field is not easy and I think people should be careful not to label media studies or other creative subjects as soft options." Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, agreed.

He said: "The debate around so-called soft A-levels is a futile one and evidence to support the notion is subjective and patchy at best. This is one of the reasons NUS supports the introduction of the new 14-19 diplomas which will provide students with both theoretical knowledge and applied skills as well as a variety of progression routes into university, apprenticeships and work. …

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