Monday, August 13, 2007

The Useless 'A' Level

This week nervous 18 year-olds throughout Britain will receive their 'A' level results and confirmation of which university they will attend for the next three years. Last year the pass mark reached an unprecedented 96%. Will it reach 100% this year or even surpass that figure?

The CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Exam is brutal. It involves three years of after-hours study and three tough exams. Of the 26, 467 candidates globally who sat the Level I paper in August 2006, a measly 40% passed. However, if you do make it through these three years, it will immensely improve your job prospects and earnings power. It is an exam worth having.

Contrast this with the 'A' level, the exam taken by 18 year-olds in the UK, where the overall pass rate is now an astonishing 96%. Oh, and 'A' levels are free, whereas the CFA costs a lot of money to complete. Which would you rather have?

John Maynard Keynes had the answer.

"There is no subtler, or surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debase the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which only one man in a million is able to diagnose."

This phenomenal performance from the country's 18 year-olds comes in the face of plummeting standards at primary school (up to 11 years) as new studies have shown that 4 in 10 primary school children can't read.

A very interesting report in the Sunday Times of a study done for the Office of National Statistics by Durham University states that inflation in 'A' levels is now two grades over an 18 year period. For example a 'C' grade in 1998 is equivalent to an 'A' grade today. In Maths, grade inflation is a whopping 3.5 grades. Last year the overall proportion of 'A's rose to 24.1% of all exams taken, double the figure in 1990.

After years of repeatedly lying about the dumbing down of exams, the government is finally realising that the 'A' level is barely worth the paper it is written on. From next year there will be an A* grade above the present top mark (revaluation of one grade - a step in the right direction) and longer essays, tougher questions and curbs on the number of retakes are being considered.

Would someone please tell Schools Secretary, Ed Balls.

“With sustained improvements in the quality of teaching and increased investment in schools, we should expect exam results to get better.”

and Dr Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority who says:

"Surely the standards debate is tired and stale now? It's only the rightwing fringes that want to return to norm-referencing [which limits the number of passes] and fail 95% of kids so the rest can be seen as achieving. Standards have risen, and there is no doubt about that."


For further comment see Wat Tyler and Tim Worstall.