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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 August, 2004, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Your views: Are A-levels easier?
exam room
A-level results are out on Thursday
News Online asked for your views on whether A-levels are getting easier.

As tens of thousands of pupils wait for their results this Thursday, many have been angered by claims of 'dumbing down'.

School Standards Minister David Miliband has attacked critics, saying the annual debate about standards has become a "pantomime".

Here is a selection of the views of News Online readers.

I have just finished my first year in uni and got my A-Level results in 2003. I did quite well but I don't think the reason for this is because a-level exams have become easier. The reason for students getting better a-level grades is because of better teaching and resources. Also I believe students are utilising the fact that they can take retakes to better their marks and achieve higher grades. However to say that students are achieving better grades because A-level exams have become easier is just rubbish.
Edward Jones, Warwickshire

A-Levels are not becoming easier at all. As I only finished my A-levels a year ago I know. Its just that the students are working hard to get the grades they deserve. This is not a bad thing but a good thing it shows that something is working. If the government want more students to go higher education which they do then they should be pleased with the results. well done to the students
Amalie Peacre, Rainham-Kent

Would anyone expect a standards minister to admit that standards have fallen? Mr. Miliband seems a little out of touch. Let him speak to a few teachers before he gushes about the rising standard of education.
Nigel Dams, Surrey

As there must be small fluctuations in the ease of exams from year to year, it would seem to me that the fairest method of grading would see the top 'X' percent of pupils be awarded an A, and so on throughout the lower grades. Year on year, however, there is an increase in pupils who achieve the highest grade. Like the A level maths students of today, it doesn't add up!
Pete, Linslade, UK

Students are working harder than ever to get they grades they desire! It also reflects on the level of teaching becoming of a higher standard as years pass by! Exams are not getting easier, as a recent university graduate I do not believe this as I worked my socks off for a degree!
Niemesh Amin, London

As I have recently qualified as a teacher I can definitely confirm that the quality and quantity of work which students have to study for, has dropped. Over the last 30 years qualifications have been continually "dumbed" down so that pupils can cope. The reason why I say this is because it was only 7 years ago when I did my A levels and I can see that work I studied for has been shifted up and beyond to degree level whilst the work I studied for in my GCSE's is now being studied at the AS and A2 levels.

However, as pupils learn only the national curriculum which the government sets, for many students now, it will just seem as hard to them as when I did my A levels 7 years ago and found my A levels difficult then too.
Anomonous, Chester

All school children work hard in school. The reason why exam results are higher is that the grade is based on coursework so points can be accumulated over the year. This ensures higher passes. If we were to return to the O-level type of exam that I had to sit, the grades would fall.
Kev, UK

I'm not sure if A-level standards are getting lower or not. What I do know is that the increasing number of students getting 2 or 3 As is making it increasingly difficult for top universities to differentiate between the applications they receive. Either introduce more grading or lower the average grade, but something must be done else universities have no choice but to accept students solely based on their interview performance, which will only lead to accusations of corruption and bias.
Chris Jefferson, York

Once again the government is telling us that black is white and we should just accept that it is so. I've worked in HE for 15 years and there it is clear that many of the first year biology students I've taught have a poor understanding of basic science. Like many of my peers I come from a working class background and got into university on merit in the early 80s. I certainly have no interest in elitism in any area of society and I fully support open access to HE for all but equality is not served by lowering standards. We've already heard strong warnings from an industry no longer able to trust the ability of recent graduates. What exactly is this super educated generation of the future going to do for a living I wonder? Well the government could use a few more think tanks.
Brian, Nottingham

What is the point of A-Levels if you can't distinguish the good from the brilliant. We need a system for University entry and A-Levels no longer serve that purpose.
Philip Gill, Oxfordshire

Mr Miliband has finally got it exactly right. As teachers, we have struggled to raise standards in the face of a constantly changing curriculum that regularly moves the goalposts for students. The current AS and A2 exams was only established in 2000, and as teachers become more au fait with what examiners are looking for on student papers, results will inevitably be on the rise. Unfortunately, the government has announced yet ANOTHER restructuring of education for 14-19 year olds in England and Wales; when results dive-bomb in the first year of yet another new initiative, educators in this country can again come under fire for not meeting 'standards', and the national attitude of demoralisation and diminished faith in education can continue.
Heather (Secondary Teacher), Gloucestershire

I'm not claiming that my experiences are typical, but when I was at school in the mid 1980s my A-levels were two years of hard work. In the last few years I've studied three more A-levels at evening class, each taking one evening a week for one year, and have gained passes at grades A, B and C. It certainly seems to me that they've got easier.
Chris B, Newbury, Berks

Having been through the A level system recently I find it appalling that people can say that żA level exams are easy'. The reason more people are passing is that, simply, there are more people taking A levels now than 30 years ago. People are doing better now with the aid of better teaching facilities, better revision aids (there are thousands of revision guides to help students understand their subjects) and the use of the internet for wider research.
Andrew Robinson, Northamptonshire

The standards of A-levels I believe has gone down since the introduction of the AS/A2 format. I have taken A-levels of both the new and old format and undoubtedly the new ones are easier due to the way they are broken up and that the first year counts as half your final mark when it is below the standards of the old A-level. I do also find it very hard to believe that teaching and the general population has suddenly got more intelligent especially with our crumbling educational system.
James Coxeter, Marbella - Spain

I work in HE and have to try to teach students with these "improved" A-level (and Highers) grades. My view, and that of many of my colleagues, is that standards have not improved over the last 10 years or so. Indeed, the quality of the students we have has probably decreased significantly, despite better qualifications on paper. I suspect that the modular nature of exams has led to the increase in top grades and in addition, teachers now are much better at teaching how to pass exams rather than stimulating deep learning in their students.
Jim Waite, Scotland

Seems the debate has started early this year. Just once it would be nice to be able to collect results without this ridiculous farce going on and on and on and on. Good luck to anyone else picking up results on Thursday.
Cat, London

I think it is an insult to the hard work students put in to suggest that A Levels are getting easier. the fact is that the teaching is better, and students are working harder. The current labour government promised to focus on education and clearly this is happening, as will be proven when the GCSE and A-Level results are published. Sadly, there are always people who will play down success for a variety of reasons. We should be congratulating these students and their teachers on the hard work they have put in, not dismissing achievement.

I suggest that the critics of the exam system should sit them themselves and see what grades they come out with before suggesting they are in any way easy. As a student, I can assure you they are not.
Eve, Essex

The fact is that rising pass marks (whether it be due to higher standards or easier exams) does no-one any good. Surely the main point of the exams are so that potential employers and universities can distinguish between the good and the very good - this does not happen when nearly a quarter get A grades.
Ed, Nottingham

David Miliband's remarks are nothing but political eyewash. It is not accordant with common sense that one fifth of the candidates should be excellent. It is time we accepted that these examinations are competitive, and are intended to distinguish different levels of ability in specific understanding and skills.

Talk to teachers: they know that A Level standards are lower, especially in sciences. Talk to the universities: there is good reason for them to complain that they can no longer distinguish applicants on the basis of exam results.
Mike Edwards, Cardiff

I am a senior teacher in an Essex comprehensive school and have been teaching A level Geography for 30 years. Although the content and skills being tested may have altered the examination has if anything become more rigorous and students have to work very hard to achieve top grades. One of the main reasons for the massive improvement in grades which is seldom mentioned is the ability of teachers to prepare students properly for the examination. In the past, mark schemes were not published and many teachers as well as their students had little idea of the standards required or exactly what the examiners were looking for. Today, after every examination, mark schemes are published and reports on the examination highlight the types of errors made and what students can do to improve their performance. Surely this represents a vast improvement in both teaching and learning.

Quite frankly I get fed up listening to those who wish to downgrade the efforts of teachers and students. We seem to have a national disease in Britain which criticises our own success. We have just won seven test matches on the trot but instead of celebrating the quality of our team many pundits have put it down to the weakness of the opposition. Just like A level results!
Steve Wilson, Hemel hempstead, Herts




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jane-Frances Kelly
"The annual debate about improved pass rates and the lowering of standards has begun"


David Miliband, schools minister
"As a nation, we love knocking success"



SEE ALSO:
Minister attacks A-level critics
17 Aug 04  |  Education
Call for 'more rigorous' A-levels
03 Jun 04  |  Education
A-level students 'face fewer exams'
27 Mar 04  |  Education
GCSEs and A-levels 'to be replaced'
14 Feb 04  |  Education


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