The headline for a good few newspapers and reputable news websites today talks of the new plans to put the A-Level syllabus back under the jurisdiction of exam boards and universities. Back in the 1950s, when A-levels were first introduced, universities made the choices for the syllabus, but over the last few decades the Government has set specific curriculum guidelines for examiners to follow. The Education Secretary Michael Gove has now announced that the Government will no longer be involved in setting A-Levels.
Gove says that he is “increasingly concerned” that the exams “fall short of commanding the level of confidence we would want to see” in students heading into higher education. He said that it is important that “A-levels enable young people to start their undergraduate degrees having gained the right knowledge and skills” to be successful.
I have to admit that to me that this is very good news. Having just gone through A-Levels last year and beginning my degree course this year I completely understand the reasons for this announcement and hope that it is successful. A-Levels DO NOT prepare you for the kind of study expected of you at University, especially the idea of independent research because at A-Levels everything you need to pass the exam or write the perfect essay is given to you. Cambridge assessment claims that because students are “spoon-fed” during their A-Levels, many struggle to structure a proper essay and even struggle with basic spelling, punctuation and grammar. I have to admit that I am the same, I’ve been indoctrinated by the constant bombardment of Assessment Objectives, pass criteria and Learning Outcomes which I was subjected to over the last four years of my academic life. So much so that sometimes I forget that I’m meant to be writing an interesting and engaging essay which answers a specific question.
Still, there’s no use crying over spilt milk; I’ve been through my A-Levels, received my results and started my degree course so I suppose I have nothing to worry about… or do I?
With all this talk of improving A-Levels because standards have dropped what happens to my CV? Do my A-Levels become worth less because they were achieved before 2014 (when the new A-Levels are set to be introduced)?
I sure hope not, I worked hard for my exams last year and I’m fairly sure that there are hundreds of thousands of people out there like me who tried and did well. Will this next generation of sixth-formers have an advantage over us or be at a disadvantage because of tougher exams?
Personally I believe that those trying to work in a more literary based course or job (e.g. journalism…) may struggle to catch up with the new recruits who won’t be trained to write essays like drones because their writing style may be more creative and interesting. In the more science and maths based courses (e.g. engineering) I don’t think it’ll make a lot of difference, although re-takes allow people to improve on their results, in the end it comes down to the simple test of whether or not their brains can handle all those equations and formulas (something I can assure you I haven’t the foggiest about). Then again, it is way too early to tell. The plans haven’t even gone ahead yet and it probably won’t be ten years before we actually receive any sort of indication as to which generation will be better off.
All I can do is work damned hard at my degree and try and get a job before they’ve even started on their nightmare trek through Further Education.