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It's no myth: superior O-level proves the system needs a rethink

Adrian Elliott has failed to point out the greatest school myth of all concerning O-level examinations ("Myth: `The apparent rise in standards is just exams getting easier'," November 13).

Far from being interred with their bones, they are, in fact, alive and well and available in every country in the world, except this one. "English language O-level papers would appear laughable to its target group today," he claims. And yet a glance at the Edexcel website tells a different story. This exam board is trumpeting the qualities of the O- level for its global market place: "It is probably the most recognised school-leaving qualification in the world." The Cambridge board's website is similarly effusive, describing its O-level exams as "a mark of quality and evidence of real ability". In Singapore the O-level is the school leaving certificate, and O-level Hong Kong students arriving here for sixth-form study invariably find themselves ahead of UK pupils.

Had the Tory Government of the late 1980s allowed the O-level to co-exist alongside the new GCSE we might well have seen a much improved and credible GCSE today. Instead, it banned the O-level to protect the GCSE from competition and allowed voices of dissent to be crushed. And that inconvenient truth has condemned today's youngsters to an examination system that is, now, widely seen as failing.

  • Chris McGovern, Director, History Curriculum Association, Hampstead, London.

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