[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 17 July, 2003, 08:57 GMT 09:57 UK
Six Forum: Changing the UK's exam system
Principal of Henley College in Oxfordshire, David Ansell, answered your questions on the baccalaureate in a live interactive forum.



A-levels and GCSEs could be replaced within the next ten years if the government follows advice it's being given today.

The former chief inspector of schools, Mike Tomlinson, has been asked to review the qualifications system for children between 14 and 19.

His report says that a system similar to the international baccalaureate should be introduced, and that pupils should be given credit for activities outside school.

According to Mr Tomlinson the changes would raise overall standards as well as provide a more useful guideline for employers.

How will the plans go down with teachers and students? How would a baccalaureate work?


Transcript


Manisha Tank:

Hello and welcome to the Six Forum with me, Manisha Tank. A-levels and GCSEs could be replaced within the 10 years if the Government follows advice from the former chief inspector of schools, Mike Tomlinson. He's been asked to review the qualification system for children between 14 and 19 and he's report says that a system similar the international baccalaureate should be introduced with credit given for activities outside of school.

We've been taking your questions and now here's David Ansell, principal of Henley College to answer them. David runs a school that already offers the baccalaureate. First of all David can you just tell us how your college works and the sort of programmes that you offer?


David Ansell:

We offer a range of programmes and the international baccalaureate is one of them. We do offer A-levels, we offer a variety of vocational programmes as well. But for some of our students the international baccalaureate is particularly interesting because of the breadth it offers and the fact that therefore students can choose a wide range of subjects and of course some students don't want to specialise at 16, they want to keep their options open - the international baccalaureate is a course that allows them to do that.


Manisha Tank:

So that's about students taking options, a lot of viewers have written in about the Government and its options and the fact that it has chosen, what seems to be, so many different approaches to education in the last 10 - 20 years. Dominic Munton has written in from York: I'm 17 and I'd like to ask when the Government will actually start thinking these matters through rather than fluttering money away on the whims and views of "experts". Why should creating an international baccalaureate actually make any difference?


David Ansell:

It will make a difference in a variety of ways. But can I just respond to another part of that point which is about thinking the issues through. I think the Government could rightly be accused - more than one government probably - of having made piecemeal changes over time. As I understand Mike Tomlinson's proposals, we're actually talking about a very early report here. We're talking about a period of consultation and I hope people are going to have the chance generally to put their views into the thinking. It's very important that people from within the professional, certainly, have the chance to shape what finally comes out. This isn't yet a final product ready to be dropped into the schools and colleges for us to be asked to take it and run with it. So the idea that it needs to be thought through, I think, is very important.

Changes have been made in the recent past. Curriculum 2000 was introduced at a very rapid pace and arguably too quickly. I would sincerely hope that this is a change - if it comes through - that actually will come through in five to ten years and not 18 months to two years, which would be far too quickly.


Manisha Tank:

Now we've had a text message in from someone who I think agrees with you, A Maribon in Somerset who asks: Does that make A-levels a less valuable qualification?

Also Martina Adams, has written in and asks: I was under the impression when I was at school (back in the late 1970's) that the O and A-level systems were well-regarded. How on Earth have we ended up in a situation where the exams are so poorly regarded?

This discussion about are we doing the right thing - it seems to crop up every year.


David Ansell:

Yes, and I think that's one thing we've got to avoid. If we are now going to have a lengthy debate and come to a coherent conclusion about what we want to do with our qualifications then we need to take our time and do that.

The question about how GCSEs and A-levels are regarded - I wouldn't quite agree with the person who came in with that point. I think A-levels are still well regarded although we did go through some difficulties last summer when there was quite a lot of confusion and concern about the A-level results and I think that did something to undermine confidence. I don't think that means that A-levels have lost their value.

In the Henley College, alongside our international baccalaureate students, we've got 700 people in any given year taking A-levels and in many cases very happily taking them and finding that they meet their needs. So we're not talking about - I hope - just throwing out wholesale what we have at the moment, we're talking about working through how we can bring things together - perhaps in a baccalaureate system under an over-arching diploma whatever we decide to call it and we may be taking the best of a number of things that we're working with at the moment.


Manisha Tank:

David I'm going to assume that the fact that you've have such a large range of courses on offer means that you can offer them to a wider range of students and that leads me to this question from Ivan Morgan, Guildford: Won't the baccalaureate fail exactly the same people as the current system? It would be replacing one academic qualification with another. Why not concentrate on the 45% of students who currently achieve no significant academic success?

But actually isn't that what you're trying to do in a way?


David Ansell:

Yes, we offer a range of courses so that we can offer something suitable to a wide range of people and if we go back to the international baccalaureate that the Henley College offers just for a moment, actually that would not be suitable for all students who might want to study post-16. Without going into the detail now, it is a fact that it is appropriate for a limited range of people. What I understand Mike Tomlinson to be putting forward is a much wider ranging programme that would have different levels within it, would allow a range of people with different aspirations and different levels of ability, still to find a level for themselves within the baccalaureate - within the diploma. So Mike Tomlinson, I think, is looking to try and make sure that we do provide something for the full range of people. One of the criticisms at A-level - and it might be levelled at the international baccalaureate too - is that it is for a part of a student population, it doesn't meet the needs of all of them. So that person is right about the 45%, or whatever the percentage is, we need a system that caters for all abilities.


Manisha Tank:

It's quite interesting that all of this discussion about Mike Tomlinson's views to the Government, in the run-up to this there's been a great deal of talk about how the skills base is moving away from the UK and what might be quite interesting here is I wonder whether he's taken into consideration the employers. We've got a question now from Melanie, Weybridge: How will the changes affect the employment process from both the recruiters and graduates point of view?

This suggestion that you should also be given credit for activities outside school was quite interesting.


David Ansell:

Yes I think it is and again there is a future in the international baccalaureate that allows, for example, community service and other such kinds of activities to be taken account of and given some credit. I do think if we really intend to cater for all needs we do need to recognise that there are a whole variety of ways in which people achieve and in which they demonstrate their abilities and a diploma that takes account of that, I think will be of interest to employers who, yes, are going to be interested in specific qualifications on many occasions, but are also interested generally in people's interests, in their aspirations and particular skills that they have, that are not always measured by examinations.


Manisha Tank:

Now there are too many that perhaps think education is free. So let's talk about funding. Katherine has written in about the financial implications and asks: If the UK government really wants to retain more pupils after 16, then they should concentrate on the financial reasons why people drop out. That's the black hole, not the status of the exams.


David Ansell:

First of all, if the Government is serious about looking at these radical changes that Mike Tomlinson wants us to consider then they have got to think about how they support students at whatever age those students are. It's very easy to be tempted away into the employment market if one is attracted by the wages that may be available. If we want students to stay in education, if we want a more highly qualified workforce, then actually we have to think about incentives that encourage people to be able to stay in education and be able to afford to stay in education.

I think from the employers point of view as well they are probably very concerned - certainly some of the ones that I've spoken to are - that there have been again many changes in a short space of time and people who are not in education become confused about the currency, about the meaning, about the validity of different qualifications. Well again, these proposals may provide us with an opportunity to think long-term and then to get well established an over-arching system. And certainly one thing the education world doesn't want is for this to be just another possible change rapidly followed by a further one at some date not so long thereafter. That's the kind of thing we've had far too much of already in the last ten years.


Manisha Tank:

We're getting to the baseline on the finance. Patricia in Southampton asks: would there be a charge for the baccalaureate?


David Ansell:

That depends on policy, that's not necessarily something connected directly with the qualification. At the moment, as things stand, if you're a student between the ages of 16 to 19 and you want to join a full-time programmes - whether it's the baccalaureate that we run or whether it's anything else - then actually tuition is free and that's about government policy rather than the choice of individual schools and colleges. So that kind of policy has to be clear to run alongside the qualifications themselves. That is in many ways a separate issue, although clearly an important one for some people.


Manisha Tank:

We'll move on from the finance, let's talk about pupils and teachers - we'll begin with the pupil/teacher relationship and what it means for your education. Jon, Ohio asks: Many bright pupils clash with their teachers. Exam systems allow such pupils to show their ability, but teacher assessment results in poor grades. What safeguards can be included to avoid this? (My own school reports consistently showed poor teacher assessment but good exam results)


David Ansell:

Yes, this is an issue which I'll address in a moment but if I may just in a quick aside say this is not an issue necessarily connected with this particular initiative and this latest bit of thinking - it's an issue that's already with us because we have qualifications already where not everything is tested by the end examination. So yes, an issue that we're very familiar with and I think the solution here is to do with whether schools and colleges have clear procedures, whether the exam boards that regulate what the teachers do equally have clear procedures and whether or not we have appropriate appeals procedures within institutions. So that a student who feels that they've not been fairly treated has a system through which they can go to have their voice heard. Mistakes will be made from time to time no doubt and it's important that the students feel that they have a voice that can get things put right if indeed they've gone wrong.


Manisha Tank:

Finally, let's just talk about the teachers. Liz Hunt, Bristol asks: Do the teachers at your school find that they have to spend substantially more time on student assessment under the baccalaureate system? And, do they have the time to assess each and every pupil in the detail that that pupil actually deserves?


David Ansell:

It is a good question and again I would say that a baccalaureate system doesn't necessarily bring with it the increased workloads for teachers in terms of assessment - that depends how you set up the assessment regime. But the other side of the question - is too much expected of teachers and might this demand more of teachers - and we do have to make sure that there's a reasonable balance so that teachers have sufficient time to carry out their assessment duties whatever they may be and for that matter sufficient time for preparation as well as marking and assessment. So again, a fair question, not necessarily one that springs from the baccalaureate proposals themselves.


Manisha Tank:

Well you did bring up the issue of balance and maybe that's what Mike Tomlinson is trying to encourage. But we have to wrap it up there. David Ansell of Henley College, thanks very much for joining us. That's it for now, you've been watching the Six Forum with me, Manisha Tank, goodbye.




SEE ALSO:
Diploma could replace A-levels
16 Jul 03  |  Education
Enjoying the Baccalaureate life
16 Jul 03  |  Education
Baccalaureate could replace A-levels
21 Jan 03  |  Education
Vocational options for bored pupils
21 Jan 03  |  Education
Secondary students' paths diverge
21 Jan 03  |  Education


RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific