Monday, January 26, 2009

British A-levels 'destroyed' by Government interference

A leading independent school is axing A-levels amid claims the exam has been "destroyed by Government interference".

Charterhouse is introducing two new qualifications to replace traditional courses following fears they fail to prepare students for university. The Rev John Witheridge, the headmaster, said schools had been left with a "dumbed down exam" as the Government aims to to increase the number of students gaining top grades as part of a drive to get more school-leavers into university.

Last September, sixth-formers at the school started Cambridge University's new Pre-U qualification - developed as a tough alternative to A-levels. The school is believed to be doing more Pre-U subjects than most other state or fee-paying schools. Now Charterhouse in Godalming, Surrey, has also announced it will offer the International Baccalaureate - the Swiss-based course set up for academic all-rounders - by September 2011.

It comes as the school prepares to stage a conference next week on the future shape of sixth-form education. Mr Witheridge said: "Government interference has destroyed the A-level as an exam for bright sixth-formers. They have reduced the overall level in order to increase the school-leavers passing the exam and going on to university. We are quite certain that the A-level has had its day."

Fifteen state schools and 35 from the private sector offered the Pre-U for the first time in September. Another 100 schools have confirmed they will run the courses in the next three years. It is seen as a return to traditional A-level study before the course was divided into six modules that students can re-sit multiple times to inflate their marks. Pupils take Pre-U exams at the end of the two-year course and answer mainly essay-based questions.

Ministers introduced reforms to A-levels last September, cutting the number of modules and introducing an elite A* to pick out the brightest. But Mr Witheridge said: "We felt that was a minimal change and we were still left with a dumbed down exam."

The school will join names such as North London Collegiate School, Sevenoaks, King's College School and Cheltenham Ladies' College in offering the IB. King Edward's School in Surrey has announced it will offer the IB exclusively from 2010 after running it alongside A-levels for the last four years, while Wellington College is proposing an IB qualification for under-16s. As part of the course, students study six subjects - three at higher and three at a standard level. They also complete a 4,000-word essay, a theory of knowledge module, extracurricular activities and community service.

"Almost every subject department here does the Pre-U and we want to offer the IB as well by 2011," said Mr Witheridge. "We think the Pre-U will be attractive for those students who want to specialist in particular areas, while most generalists among our sixth-form will go for the IB. It means all our students will be able to follow qualifications that are valued by universities, free of Government interference."


Australia: Teachers getting fed up with chaotic schools

MORE than 530 graduate teachers will begin work in State Government schools this week, but twice as many teachers resign every year. There has been a 17 per cent jump in primary and secondary teacher resignations since 2003, according to the latest State Government figures obtained by the Opposition.

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said there would be a shortage of teachers in specialist subjects in government secondary schools this year. Mr Ryan said maths, science and manual arts would be hit hardest. "Enrolments are increasing and the number of teachers also needs to increase," Mr Ryan said. The Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg said the Beattie and Bligh governments had taken teachers for granted.

ABOUT 5 per cent of state school classes have too many children. That figure has remained constant for the past three years, despite regular complaints of overcrowding. Education Queensland and the Queensland Teachers Union have agreed on target class sizes for 2009: Prep to Year 3, 25; Years 4 to 10, 28; and Years 11 and 12, 25. "Queensland state school students spend the vast majority of their time in classes under the target sizes," a department spokesman said.

Almost 500,000 students will enrol at state primary, secondary and special schools in 2009. Just under half that number will enrol at private schools. Staffing at the 1250 state schools will be based on rolls on the eighth day of the school year - Thursday, February 5, - the official census day.


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