Thursday, August 18, 2005


Universities are coming under mounting pressure to adopt admissions tests to distinguish between the best candidates as record numbers of A-level students are forecast to gain top grades this week. With almost a quarter of girls predicted to achieve A grades, it has emerged that the Government is preparing to back nationwide trials of a generic university entrance test, as early as next month. The move indicates that Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, has understood universities' concerns that the examinations are no longer a sufficiently reliable gauge of pupils' intelligence.

Over the past 22 years, the percentage of pupils achieving grade As at A level has risen from 8.9 per cent in 2002 to 22.4 per cent last year. At the same time, the pass rate has gone up from 68.2 per cent to 96 per cent. Alan Smithers, director of the University of Buckingham's Centre for Education and Employment Research, said yesterday: "The number of universities setting their own entrance exams is bound to increase. It looks like a quarter of girls will get A grades this year, so unless national exams have tougher questions, universities are going to have to introduce tests to discriminate fairly."

Since 2003, Oxford, Cambridge and other leading universities claim that they have been forced to set additional entrance exams for subjects such as medicine and law, history, because A levels alone no longer help them to identify the very best. Last year, Cambridge was forced to turn away 5,325 applicants who went on to achieve straight As.

The Government has ruled out any changes to A levels until 2008, but yesterday Tessa Stone, director of the Sutton Trust education charity, confirmed that preparations were under way for a national trial of the US-style admissions test, or Scholastic Aptitude Test, with 50,000 A-level students later in the year. She told The Times: "We're hoping the tests will come off in the autumn . . . Teams of researchers will approach schools this September, as soon as we get the government go-ahead."

The trial, which will cover a representative sample of A-level students around the country, will be conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). It will track students from the time that they sit the test, through university and afterwards, to measure the examination's effectiveness. Dr Stone added: "We think it's very important for widening participation in particular, and that admissions tutors have something alongside A levels to make an admission decision."

Last year, Steven Schwartz, the vice-chancellor of Brunel University, who chaired a task force on fairer university admissions, came out in support of the Scholastic Aptitude Test, which is widely used by American universities. Professor Schwartz cited research by the Sutton Trust charity which indicated that, of 30 British students achieving 1,200 points, enough to be considered by Harvard in a US-style test, only one had achieved three A grades at A level.

Critics claim that the test can be coached and that it does not measure a student's aptitude for an individual subject. Professor Smithers said that a previous trial in Britain in the 1960s was suspended because it did not add to the sum of knowledge provided by A levels.

However, at Oxford University, a spokeswoman said that admissions tutors might consider more selective tests if numbers increased for other popular subjects. She said: "Nothing can be ruled out . . . but one thing admissions tutors have felt is that subject-specific tests are a better way of finding an aptitude for a subject, than a general test."

As more than 260,000 students prepare to receive their A-level results on Thursday, an ICM poll revealed yesterday that almost half of Britain's adults believe that A levels have become easier. Ms Kelly was criticised this year when she rejected radical plans to replace A levels, GCSEs and vocational qualifications with a four-level diploma.

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills said that A levels were "here to stay" and it was premature to theorise about exam results before they had been published. She added, however, that the Qualifications Curriculum Authority, the examinations watchdog, was examining A levels to see how "we can increase the stretch of our brightest students by introducing tougher questions and the introduction of an extended project. We will provide more details on these proposals later in the year."


The teaching of reading goes back to phonics in Australian schools

The "whole language" fallacy goes back around a century but destructive know-all "educationists" seem to be themselves incapable of learning

Children are set to learn reading in the same way their parents did as part of a Federal Government push for back-to-basics teaching in classrooms. The head of a national literacy inquiry, Ken Rowe, said nearly one in three children were not learning to read properly because they lacked the building blocks provided by phonics, the system of sounding out letters and syllables. "There does seem to be a tail of underachievement, and the major concern is boys," Dr Rowe said. "You'll find roughly 30 per cent of year 9 students have functional literacy problems. The only way we can really address this is with a nationwide solution."

His report is due within weeks. The federal Minister for Education, Brendan Nelson, says he will withhold funding from states that resist the recommendations. In phonics teaching, emphasis is on the relationship between letters, or syllables, and their sounds. They are sounded one at a time (such as c-a-t) through repetitive exercises that begin with easy words and move on to more difficult ones. It was generally replaced in classrooms in the 1980s by the whole language method of immersing children in print and allowing them to absorb words. In recent years schools have adopted a blend of the two. But Dr Rowe, a research director with the Australian Council for Educational Research, said whole language teaching had acquired "too great an emphasis in some schools". He is expected to recommend a national scheme for the systematic teaching of phonics.

Dr Nelson, who commissioned the inquiry, said: "I suspect there's a lot of teachers who simply do not know how to teach phonics, or they're working in educational bureaucracies that frown on the use of phonics." He said he would "mandate" to ensure the states implemented Dr Rowe's proposals. And he would withhold funding if they resisted. "If they don't [agree], that then leaves us with the only language they seem to understand, and that's money."

Dr Rowe said: "The constructivist way [of whole language teaching], for 70 per cent of kids that may be appropriate, but then you have to take into account the 30 per cent for whom it doesn't work. They need direct instruction, or what you might call systematic phonics. "But there is no dichotomy . all evidence-based research shows both ways of teaching are valuable depending on the development learning needs of the child. We just need to be sure that one isn't downplayed."

The most recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development literacy review found 15-year-old students in NSW performed second only to those from Finland. Dr Rowe said Australia was among the top countries such as Finland, New Zealand and Canada, and performed better than Britain and the US. But the latest national literacy results show about one in 10 year 5 and year 7 students cannot meet their reading benchmarks.

Maureen Walsh, an education lecturer at the Australian Catholic University, said phonics was taught in schools among "a rich blend of principles". "It's silly to say we need more phonics," she said. "We give all our teaching students at ACU a lot of phonics instruction. And anyway, we moved on from the phonics and whole language debate 10 years ago - we now have a model that draws from both and also takes in social context and new technology."

Dr Rowe and his committee of academics, teachers and parents have read 400 submissions since October. And they have examined the findings of a British parliamentary committee that completed a similar inquiry into literacy four months ago. Its report noted the success of early phonics programs in some British schools and recommended a review of British teaching strategy, which treats phonics as just one of many learning tools. Dr Walsh suggested the push for "the explicit teaching of phonics is not a bad thing in itself but it would be very damaging if it is at the expense of losing many newer, excellent approaches".



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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