This morning I was listening to an interesting debate on Radio 5 about the standard of education relating to A level results. Some listeners were saying that university students only had a basic knowledge of English and they struggled to write essays. Some were a lot more derisive. As with all good debates, there were those who supported the students too. They were brilliant at writing essays and did not lack a basic knowledge of English. These listeners should know because they marked the essays.
The subject came up because Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, had expressed concerns that A levels did not stretch students and he suggests that universities should decide the content of A level courses. Well students aren't stretched are they? Every year we hear of more and more of them are getting top marks in everything and if this is the case then it will be hard to differentiate between students who are all getting equally good marks. Also, if there are many who get top marks then how do they improve?
It is easy to say that no system is perfect and improvements could be made. My anecdotal evidence suggests that our students do struggle with English and few people know the difference between who and whom. I see errors everywhere including blogs written by A level students. Lynne Truss is definitely in the reform camp. Do you still see supermarkets with signs for ten items or less, or is it now ten items or fewer? Which is correct? You can find the answer in her book "eats, shoots and leaves". Have I written the title correctly? If you are not sure on either of these points then you can safely say that you agree with Michael (Gove and Gradwell) and Lynne.
I have A levels, a degree and quite a few other qualifications, but it was only as an adult that someone told me how to write essays, and that was while I happened to be studying French. So it may well be the case that there are many at university who do not know how to write essays and it is definitely the case that more stretching needs to occur. But how can those who mark the good essays be wrong? Maybe their vested interest means they have to say that their students are good. Maybe they are lucky. Maybe their students are good. I am sure that the debate will continue.
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