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EDITIONS
Thursday, 17 August, 2000, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
Results 'a real achievement'
exam scripts storeroom
Almost 785,000 exam scripts have been marked
Ministers, examiners and teachers have congratulated this year's A-level students on raising the game once again - and reject claims that the exams are getting easier.

The Higher Education Minister, Baroness Blackstone, said: "No doubt there will be those, as usual, who seek to devalue these results.


We've now got endemic grade inflation which is making it harder and harder for employers to discriminate between able and less well able students

Ruth Lea, Institute of Directors
"They are wrong - these results reflect real achievement.

"There are good reasons why both A-level and Advanced GNVQ pass rates have continued to improve.

"Young people understand that good qualifications are increasingly important to their future careers and they work hard to achieve good results."

Eighteen years of improvement

She was commenting on the publication of the results from exam boards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - which students themselves get on Thursday.

The overview figures show the number of A-level A grades rose from 17.5% to 17.8%. The proportion of all pass grades was also up slightly, to 89.1%.

The grades have now been improving every year since most of those who sat them this summer were born.

Ruth Lea, policy director at the Institute of Directors said: "This is farcical - we've now got endemic grade inflation which is making it harder and harder for employers to discriminate between able and less well able students, and the universities are having the same problem.

"We are deeply pessimistic about this dumbing down - A-levels are no longer the gold standard they were 20 years ago."


Is teaching the only job in which one is blamed for failure and for success?

Teacher Maria McCann
But her comments annoyed teachers and their representatives.

Maria McCann, who teaches English at Strode College in Street, Somerset, e-mailed to say: "My students have done well, but I mustn't feel any satisfaction - it's just the inevitable result of dumbing down.

"Is teaching the only job in which one is blamed for failure and for success?

"How on earth do people expect teaching to attract recruits? Only a masochist would want to enter a profession where years of work result in ill-informed derision."

'Deplorable'

The general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, said: "The rate of improvement year-on-year would be a matter of pride for any organisation or company and it is deplorable that the Institute of Directors is claiming that standards have fallen," he said.

"If one of their members' companies had achieved this continuous improvement, they would be showering them with praise."

But Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said the annual increases in the number of A grades over the past decade were a clear indication that standards had fallen.

"If examination boards are not careful, employers may lose faith in qualifications altogether," he said.

"The fact is that universities have struggled to pick out the brightest youngsters because so many are getting higher grades.

"There have been various complaints from universities that youngsters who have got good grades are not up to the standard required for the degree courses they apply for."

More support

Paul Sokoloff, convenor of the Joint Council for General Qualifications, which publishes the results, said the reasons for the improvement were complicated.

He attributed it to higher standards of teaching and a more supportive environment for students - with increased parental interest and a wealth of revision material and advice in print and on the internet.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority monitored exams "in what I can only describe as grisly detail" to ensure standards were maintained, he said.

Opposition concern

The Conservatives' higher education spokesman, Tim Boswell, demanded a review of A-level standards.

"Of course we congratulate this year's successful A-level students and their teachers, their hard work deserves praise and recognition," he said.

"But we need to ensure that these achievements are respected and maintained - the time is right for a wide-ranging review of the A-level examination to ensure that it remains the 'gold standard' for education."

The new sixth form curriculum coming in this September, under which students will take at least four or five AS-level subjects in their first year, focusing on three or four A-levels in the second, was a threat to standards, he said.

"Serious academic study might be compromised - those students with imagination could be penalised and universities might begin to lose confidence in their entrants," he said.

He argued for the introduction of an A* grade - as there is at GCSE level - to recognise outstanding achievement.

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Richard Baron, IOD deputy head of policy
"It does look unlikely that pass rates would go up so much from 1982"

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30 Nov 99 | UK Education
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