A-level passes all understanding

24th March 2000 at 00:00
THANK you Richard Walmsley (TES, Curriculum Special, March 10) for saving my sanity.

After four years of dealing with one of the boards I was starting to doubt my ability as an A-Level French teacher. We have experienced the same kind of problems in both French and Spanish and are having to cope with the aftermath as disappointed pupils see their university places disappear and lower-school pupils opt for subjects which seem "more stable" in terms of results.

In the past we have entered a number of foreign nationals, who all experience difficulties completing the papers and often get lower marks than some of the English pupils even though they understand every word.

Teachers at some of the feedback meetings held by the boards are horrified at the nit-picking attitude to answers and the obstacles thrown in their way.

Thus, on one listening paper a pupil who correctly identified the answer but didn't make it plural was awarded no marks. Similarly, on a reading paper, a candidate who wrote "it was at the planning stage - not ye finished" got nothing because the answer was "at the planning stage".

The moderation process is also a complete lottery and it is absolutely true that we can longer accurately predict the grade a pupil will achieve. The oral exams are better but we are now seeing our marks downgraded after moderation even though pupils are doing the same topics as previous years when the same staff were graded as "excellent and wholly consistent" by the moderator.

We have the consistency, the exam boards keep moving the goalposts! Nationally, the take-up at A-level for languages is in decline and the exam boards are gradually killing us off as pupils look at previous results before making their choice.

Four years ago, before A-levels were revised, we were getting good grades and starting to see an increase in numbers. Now a straight-A student cannot be confident about getting an A in French. Let's hope that the new exams go some way to redress this.

Tracy Stocking

Head of languages

Sandown high school

Isle of Wight

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