From education to employment

Row Over Education Reform Catalyst for Change

The usual rounds of discord sound out from the media and other quarters following the soon to be published “A” level results. The calls for reform have echoed louder and longer with each passing academic year as results continue to improve.

The media, opposition parties and various education pundits lambast the current marking system and claim vociferously that the examinations have become farcically easy and require a long overdue reform. The government retort that the levels are just as rigorous as ever.

Tomlinson Says”¦

A review of the educational needs of children aged 14-19 was carried out by Sir Mike Tomlinson, who in October 2004 recommended a Baccalaureate style diploma be introduced. Research suggests that public opinion, too, is broadly in favour of a significant reform to the current “A” Level system.

Barry Lovejoy, head of Further Education at NATFHE, the University & College Lecturers” Union, believes: “The improved A-level results expected this week have rekindled the stale debate about the qualification’s standards. It is time the debate also considered appropriateness. Standards of A-level teaching and student performance have never been higher but it makes sound educational sense to move to a broader post-16 qualification ““ the Baccalaureate style diploma, or so-called “overarching diploma” recommended by Tomlinson.

Mr. Lovejoy continues, saying: “This would provide opportunities for a balanced mix of vocational and academic studies which better prepare14-18 year olds for post-school work or study. “Only 60% of higher education entrants are from schools ““ 40% enter from colleges ““ but a broad based diploma would benefit students from both routes.”

The Governmental Riposte

The Government claims the opposite; that record pass rates merely show that children are getting brighter and attribute this to superior teaching standards and methods. It is certainly true that grades have been steadily improving and there are reams of statistical evidence to prove this. Yet there is also evidence that examinations are too easy and do not challenge or differentiate between the brightest pupils. The government has remained adamant in its support of the trusty old “A” level, but there is mounting support for the International Baccalaureate style diploma to be adopted.

The Government’s position was outlined by a spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills, who stated: “The A-level system is tried and tested. We have seen improved results in recent years because standards of teaching have never been higher – all the credible evidence shows that exams have not become easier. If anything, its the arguments that suggest A-levels are easier that are dumbed down, not the exams.”

Many schools and colleges already teach the International Baccalaureate diploma and many more are likely to adopt it as “A” levels continue to be criticised. There seems to be a very positive argument for creating a more broad-based, vocational system that will help students gain more relevant skills to bring to the work place. There is also an argument that if the UK is to remain in the European Union and that people educated here are likely to end up either working or studying in another member state. There should, therefore, surely be some kind of European Standard qualification taught in all EU countries, such as the International Baccalaureate diploma.

David Hart, from the National Association of Head Teachers, said, “The government has to listen to the demands from an education world that is seeking a tougher and broader test of the countrys able students.”

Dan Atkinson.

Are you a gold standard bearer? Or do you fly the vocational flag? Hoist your pennant in the FE Blog

Related Articles