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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 April 2007, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Your views on sixth form education
BBC education correspondent Mike Baker discussed claims by independent school head teacher, Dr Anthony Seldon, that sixth forms are now solely about coaching youngsters to pass A-levels and get into university.

As usual we invited your thoughts too. Here is a selection of the responses.

As a current first year Education studies student at Cambridge University I would like to say a big well done to Dr Seldon! I had this argument with many of my teachers during my time in 6th form, complaining that there was no time for researching that which interested you about the course. Teachers no longer teach their subject, they teach how to pass exams. This should not be the case.
Rebecca, Cambridge

Why not wait to make university offers until after the A-level results come through? And then just do as a lot of countries do (Greece, Australia, etc) just randomly choose those that make the grade? A kid at 17 is a different person to an undergraduate at 21 - some children that under whelmed at school thrive at university whilst others wither, and vice versa.
Zonne Gloren, Cambridge, UK

We used to talk about winning a place at university, but now it is a right. A good offer should be an achievement, not a given.
Jennifer Gilby, Richmond, N.Yorks

I don't really see why all universities don't interview. Nothing like a "viva" to sort out what people really understand - and to find out if they actually know what they're applying for.
Lucy Jones, Manchester

I think that universities have much to answer for in the way in which they select their students. As a 17-year-old who had conducted charity fundraising, extracurricular language and art classes and worked with disabled children in my spare time, I struggled to get interviews despite predicted A and B grades. Other students who were predicted slightly higher grades yet contributed nothing to the community were straight away given interviews. This seemed unrepresentative of the skills I had taken it upon myself to learn.
Gemm, London

I feel great sympathy for Dr Seldon and his comments. I work in a university and expansion of student numbers without accompanying staffing has made it impossible to interview applicants. But universities are equally under pressure from employers to produce well rounded young people and the vast over supply of graduates for 'milk round' schemes means that employers can be extremely picky so their selection pressures are simply being transmitted down the education system. The solution? To recognise we don't need as many graduates as we produce, reduce the number of university places and to direct young people of moderate academic abilities into appropriate craft-based work where there are shortages of new recruits.
Sylvia, UK

I see two questions here - just what the purpose of education is, and how to assess the claims of those who aspire to higher education at university. The first is that an educated society is an economically more productive society than an uneducated one. Our education system is based on the need to produce a technologically capable workforce, a need that emerged during the late 19th century. Only those who can use the higher learning to contribute to the desired economic outcome, directly or indirectly, really need higher education. The second, should university entry be based wholly on merit using objective criteria such as external examination, or a mixture of exam plus interview, I recall was the situation back in the 1960s. It worked then but only about 10% of school leavers went to university, usually to become members of professions, including teaching. Now the volume of candidates is probably too great. It is interesting that government is attempting to create a form of selective social mobility, which reminds me of something the Nazis also tried in the 1930s by excluding intelligent Jews and encouraging 'Aryans' to universities. Government cut off the merit based social mobility opportunities that the 1950 and 1960 grammar schools offered working class kids like me to be replaced by subjective selection, I suspect based more on narrow party electoral considerations than the national interest.
Gerry Doyle, Perth, Australia

I couldn't agree more. My oldest did A-levels last year. Coursework and exams are continuous all the way through the 6th form. The emphasis in exams seems to be on 'model answers' - making sure you include exactly the right words. With retakes and coursework average students can boost their grades. Personal statements are a joke - everyone comes out with the same platitudes about why they want to do their course. Universities pay no attention to anything other than grades, putting enormous pressure on students even in years 10 and 11 who are told that universities will be looking at their GCSEs.
Judith Benson, Horsham, UK

At university I was lucky enough to be taught largely via weekly 'supervisions' consisting of two students and a tutor who would grill us thoroughly on the weeks work. Coming straight from school I found this approach horrifying, being used to regurgitating formulaic answers to familiar questions, having to defend my point of view rigorously and delve deeper into topics than I had previously considered was quite a trial. Had I not be fortunate enough to attend a top university I would never had encountered such teaching and would never had developed the problem solving and analytic skills I have taken from university. It is the lack of such teaching in schools and indeed in many universities which is robbing students of the real benefits of a thorough education.
Richard Tenson, Glasgow




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