Making the Grade

5:07 pm Blogroll


A recent SCMP article highlighted the case of a Hong Kong parent who had happily spent nearly a million dollars putting her daughter through two years of school in the UK because she felt British A-levels were easier than Hong Kong ones and thus her daughter had a better chance of getting high grades and entry to HKU which treats both qualifications equally for entry purposes. In the past week two more instances have emerged querying the level of difficulty of UK public examinations.

The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual), the government body responsible for overseeing qualifications, examinations and assessments in England for a variety of levels, including GCSE and A-level, has been widely reported in the press as being unhappy with the demands of the recent raft of GCSE Science papers from all the main examination boards. Too many questions on Science papers taken in 2009 and 2010 asked for general knowledge with a scientific bent, or led candidates too far towards the answer. Ofqual has said it wants Science questions to be harder and to require students to properly demonstrate their scientific knowledge.

In a separate instance, Education secretary Michael Gove has said that he wants to return A-levels to the two year linear structure of yesteryear in response to widespread complaints that modular A-levels are “too easy”. Critics of modular A-levels say that there is too much emphasis on examination, the modules break the course up, removing any feeling of coherence, and that there is an overall lack of depth to the qualification which leaves modern students ill-prepared for university learning.

There has, however, been an immediate response against this proposal. Geoff Parks, admissions manager for the University of Cambridge, has been reported by the BBC as having written to the secretary of state pointing out the immense benefits that universities derive from the modular style, most particularly having AS results available to admissions tutors during the selection process. He says that these provide far greater insight than other available results such as GCSEs (especially pertinent given fears about those standards). Not only are they a great help in indicating bottom-line academic ability, they seem to help make the application process fairer, encouraging applications from non-traditional backgrounds and thus allowing institutions to tap into the true talent pool rather than a portion of it.

Education reform is perhaps one of the greatest areas of contention in society. It always will be as long as society needs to try and standardize the “non-standardizeable” (people). For now it seems a middle way is going to be desirable. Reducing the number of examinations to make school time more efficiently and advantageously used while still giving universities and students the best academic and intellectual indicators possible is a challenge which needs to be risen to.

By Danny Harrington

Co-founder of ITS Tutorial School

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