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Old 05-17-2008, 04:03 PM   #1
Pavlos
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The quality of the A-Level

The irony of this (something which must be even worse for institutions such as the University of Warwick PLC) happening under a government which ran its 1997 election campaign with the three words "education, education, education" is beyond amusing; it keeps going past that mark until its about as pleasant as being hit with a lemon wrapped around a gold bar. The article has added to the doubts growing at the back of my mind about the quality of the British education system of today.

I know of no other country in the world that beats itself up about increasing numbers of high-grade exam results. It's probably something that is uniquely British. The number of 'A' grades (on a scale of 'A' to 'E', 'A' being the highest) at A-Level has risen for twenty-five consecutive years and every time a new batch of results arrives, the media publish large articles about how the exams are getting easier. It's understandable from a business point of view; the issue is contentious enough to sell papers and it fills the long (scandal-devoid) period of Parliament's summer recess.

I will pass no judgements as to the difficultly of the modern A-Level when compared to the A-Level of 1970 because the two are far too different to compare but when I open the paper to read that universities are having to give lessons in how to teach an essay alarm bells have a tendency to go off in my head. Once the ringing noise has died down and my vision isn't blood-shot, I begin to wonder if this is another case of successive governments hitting their target (often entirely arbitrary; such as Mr. Blair's idea that 50% of people should study an undergraduate course) but missing the point entirely.

The two years students spend studying for their Advanced Levels when they could be out in the sun are rigorous and dreary. The A-Level is tough (M.I.T.'s Physics department grants credit for "12 units of 8.01, Physics 1", so I'm presuming that it's of US undergraduate level) but is it tough in the right way? The A-Level is the ticket, passport, and suitcase of the British universities. If you don't have three of them to a high level then your shot at the 'elite' universities -- such as Durham, Bristol, or Bath -- is done for. If you don't have three of them at 'A' grade then you can forget applying to (and most likely being rejected by) Oxford and Cambridge. Given this fact it would make sense for the syllabus taught to sixteen- to eighteen-year-olds trained them for university study.

When studying for an A-Level you are taught to the exam that you will be sitting at the end of the year and unless that exam happens to be Unit 6 of English Literature, reading around the subject and doing things other than practice questions is not going to help one jot. A-Level Biology involves answering questions about specific bite-sized topics; there is just one question in A-Level Biology which requires a synthesis of knowledge and that's the essay that ends the final unit's exam.

The academic environment of a university demands that you draw together all your knowledge of a subject and read outside of it. Freudian criticism of texts rarely works without understanding Freud or Jung, for example. Someone who has gained, say, one 'A' and two 'B's at A-Level by teaching and training themselves how to answer A-Level questions is going to have to spend a significant amount of time 'unlearning' this technique; time better spent on intellectual expansion and study. They will struggle with university life and ultimately fail to realise their full potential.

So perhaps the question the Daily Mail should be asking is not "Are the A-Levels easier than they used to be?" but "Are the A-Levels doing their job?" That is: is the British secondary education system preparing students properly for academic life?

The answer? Probably not.

Your thoughts on the matter?


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Last edited by Pavlos; 05-17-2008 at 07:33 PM.
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Old 05-17-2008, 05:18 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pavlos
The irony of this (something which must be even worse for institutions such as the University of Warwick PLC)....

The answer? Probably not.

Your thoughts on the matter?
You near to Warwick Uni Pavlos? Very near my hometown of Leamington is Warwick, and my Mum has 2 Masters degree's from there.

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In large states public education will always be mediocre, for the same reason that in large kitchens the cooking is usually bad.
I think there are several problems with the modern education system, that are systemic. Are A-levels getting easier or are pupils getting brighter/more learned? I can't say, what I do know is far too many people are going to university these days for pointless degree's and it has drastically brought down the quality of degree's.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pavlos
That is: is the British secondary education system preparing students properly for academic life?
Nope, School and Universities these days teach people WHAT to think, NOT; HOW to think, a very dangerous state of affiars in my opinion.

While pupils are not prepared for university properly I do not rate the quality of academic quality being produced by undergraduated, and even some post graduate students these days...

I do know that A-levels being changed was a very bad Idea, the governments obsession with exams has infected them, e.g. AS levels are a distinctly bad idea, and the same obsession has infected uni life. I do not think the former actually promotes intelligence, but is merely a test of memory, conformity and obediance to see which people will sit for hours wasting their time on revision, of facts that in all likelyhood they will never require again.

Just my 2 cents.



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Last edited by jonathan7; 05-17-2008 at 05:26 PM. Reason: Spelling, oh How I love being mildy dyslexic!
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Old 05-17-2008, 05:38 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jonathan7
You near to Warwick Uni Pavlos? Very near my hometown of Leamington is Warwick, and my Mum has 2 Masters degree's from there.
I wasn't saying that Warwick isn't a good university, if that's what you are suggesting. It is famous for its ties with the business world, just as its 1963 brother, York, is for its emphasis on a high quality of teaching. The issue that I have with universities relying on private money is that it introduces market forces into academia. Less well-attended courses may be axed because they don't turn a profit and those more popular will get disproportionate amounts of funding. I have this horrible image in my mind of a future in which universities pour millions into Media Studies and axe their Astronomy courses.

Warwick's ties with big business have worked out more than well for it but I think we should be careful before embracing the idea of private tertiary education.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jonathan7
I do not think the former actually promotes intelligents, but is merely a test of memory, conformity and obediance to see which people will sit for hours wasting their time on revision, of facts that in all likelyhood they will never require again.
This is true. The English Literature A-Level requires that a student memorise hundreds of lines of poetry. I fail to see how this is a valuable skill when learning to analyse literature.


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Last edited by Pavlos; 05-18-2008 at 11:53 AM.
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Old 05-17-2008, 05:53 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pavlos
I wasn't saying that Warwick isn't a good university, if that's what you are suggesting. It is famous for its ties with the business world, just as its 1963 brother, York, is for its emphasis on a high quality of teaching. The issue that I have with universities relying on private money is that it introduces market forces into academia. Less well-attended courses may be axed because they don't turn a profit and those more popular will get disproportionate amounts of funding. I have this horrible image in my mind of a future in which universities pour millions into Media Studies and axe their Astronomy courses.

Warwick's ties with the big business has worked out more than well for it but I think we should be careful before embracing the idea of private tertiary education.
Oh, I just wondered why you'd mentioned Warwick, I'm not as up on University funding as you. I do concur that private investment is certainly a concern for the reasons you have mentioned, though my experiance of Uni life has been that Lecturers too often bring their own private bug bears into lectures and effect their lectures.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pavlos
This is true. The English Literature A-Level requires that a student memorise hundreds of lines of poetry. I fail to see how this is a valuable skill when learning to analyse literature.
I enjoyed my time at school, and actually look back fondly at pretty much all my teachers, but i think their hands are often tied by our moronic government.

Indeed, to be honest, I studied Psychology, History and Biology at A-level and can remember very little from any of them, I can remember even less from GCSE's (don't get me started on how poo they are!). So what was the point in me doing them? I remember having also to do 'key skills' more specifically IT, which really was a joke considering my part time job in 6th form was as an IT technition. And half the time I'd end up having to help the clueless IT teacher we had (we had some very good IT teachers, but we didn't get taught by them in 6th form!).

So what was the point in me studying much of the above? I can still remember quotes from private reading I did 6 years ago. Meh, I think I have an axe to grind with Labour here; the messed my education up and I'm not happy - I'll get you (legally) one day Tony Blair! Frown

I also know due to class sizes in school, and even at A-level, my dyslexia wasn't picked up on by anybody untill I go to university, hence me not being particuarly amused for all the tellings off I got during school for poor handwriting (especially when having to rush in exams), bad spelling and gramme. Though ironically, I think it not being picked up on, and me not recieving special treatmemnt, has reduced its effects, as I've had to cope with it, if that makes sense.



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Old 05-17-2008, 06:32 PM   #5
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To be fair, the A-level courses are much more interpretative and based on ones own view than GCSE by far, and could be seen as a stepping stone between GCSE and uni. I take Sociology, English Language, Geography and Media, and whilst sociology and geography are very much about just regurgitating facts and names, media and to a certain extent english rely more on the talent of the person doing it, and general studies definitely does, despite its wooliness as a grade, though i'm told unis are beginning to accept it more now. I do think education is very exams-orientated, too much so almost certainly, but the new proposals for the replacements are being moaned about by teachers and are apparently even worse in terms of how well they could be implemented. So i don't know. As long as they don't mess with what i'm doing at the moment i suppose
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Old 05-18-2008, 11:42 AM   #6
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That relies on the idea that GCSE's are adequate at present - I'd say the rot goes at least as far back as there.

The short answer to Pavlos' question is 'no'.

When undergrads have to be taught what the meaning of terms like "Subject", "Object", "Genitive" etc. are when they have begun a language course (or, heaven forfend, linguistics...) clearly there is something wrong with education in this country. How can you explain the Stative if they don't understand concepts like "passive"?

Last year, OCR planned to remove document studies from their A-Level history course, I learned from a friend who teaches history. Now, would someone please explain to me the purpose of a history course at that level that no longer teaches document studies?



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Old 05-18-2008, 12:13 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Salzella
To be fair, the A-level courses are much more interpretative and based on ones own view than GCSE by far, and could be seen as a stepping stone between GCSE and uni.
Thats what they are meant to be, however, I don't think that they are. I would be interested to see what you think of things in say 4 years time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Salzella
I take Sociology, English Language, Geography and Media, and whilst sociology and geography are very much about just regurgitating facts and names, media and to a certain extent english rely more on the talent of the person doing it, and general studies definitely does, despite its wooliness as a grade, though i'm told unis are beginning to accept it more now.
I wish you luck with your studies.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Salzella
I do think education is very exams-orientated, too much so almost certainly, but the new proposals for the replacements are being moaned about by teachers and are apparently even worse in terms of how well they could be implemented. So i don't know. As long as they don't mess with what i'm doing at the moment i suppose
The problem is the Government overhauled a system, that while need modification did not need a major overhaul, and so they keep confounding the error by making even more drastic changes.

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Originally Posted by DI
That relies on the idea that GCSE's are adequate at present - I'd say the rot goes at least as far back as there.
I think the rot goes alot further back than that myself, I do remember being marked down at GCSE for answering questions correctly, but that wasn't what we were taught. e.g. for one question we were asked if the sun was the only thing plants could photosynthesize from; I answered no, they can also use man made light forms... I was answered incorrect as that wasn't what was on the marking scheme. How on earth is that adequate education? My 6th form basically consisted of the teachers telling me everything we had been taught before was vastly over simplified and what angered me was I already knew this... And you don't want to get me started upon the pointlessness of Maths! I knew even aged 16 when doing GCSE maths I was going to need most of what we were beign taught, so what was the point?

Quote:
Originally Posted by DI
When undergrads have to be taught what the meaning of terms like "Subject", "Object", "Genitive" etc. are when they have begun a language course (or, heaven forfend, linguistics...) clearly there is something wrong with education in this country. How can you explain the Stative if they don't understand concepts like "passive"?
Agreed;

Also somethign that never made sense to me at school (at least when I was there) Pupils are put in a set determined on their english ability, whats that about? I mean, lets say someone is good at maths and not english; why are they in a lower maths set?


Quote:
Originally Posted by DI
Last year, OCR planned to remove document studies from their A-Level history course, I learned from a friend who teaches history. Now, would someone please explain to me the purpose of a history course at that level that no longer teaches document studies?
It really is going down hill, and no I don't see the point if it, I mean why even use the history book? As for evaluation of sources for bias? I mean why would you do that?



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"Many a doctrine is like a window pane. We see truth through it but it divides us from truth." - Kahlil Gibran
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