A week in education.

15th August 2008 at 01:00

The newspaper pictures of pretty sixth-formers leaping in the air were the clue it was A-level results time again. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, called in The Times for an end to the "annual sterile debate that improved results mean `dumbing down'". Some hope.

The Institute of Directors published an analysis suggesting that a pupil who received a C grade at A-level in 1988 would have achieved an A today, leading the Daily Mail to report that A-level standards were "falling at the rate of one grade a decade". This may have confused readers of its sister paper, the Mail on Sunday, which the day before ran the headline: "Today's pupils `work harder'".

Concerns about a decline in pupil's work also surrounded the key stage 3 results. Jim Knight, the schools minister, said the Sats scores for 14- year-olds were encouraging as they showed more were reaching the expected levels in writing and maths. But drops of up to two percentage points in level 5 passes for reading, English and science attracted the most attention.

The Daily Express reported that "One in three can't read at 14", ignoring those who had achieved a level 4. Meanwhile The Sun reported that Mr Knight was recommending teenage boys read The Sun, as "boys who think books are for wimps will feel less embarassed about reading Britain's favourite newspaper". And enjoy a chance to look at page 3, presumably.

Speculation grew that the head of the national watchdog for exams would quit over the disastrous marking of this year's key stage tests by the US- owned firm ETS Europe. Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualification and Curriculum Authority, refused to comment on calls for him to resign.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told The Guardian he hoped Mr Boston would not become a "scapegoat" for the problems, which caused late test papers.

Several universities plan to ignore A* grades at A-level so they can avoid offering more places to pupils from independent schools, a Sunday Telegraph investigation found. Internal documents from universities, including Oxford, showed the grade, to be awarded from 2010, would disadvantage state school applicants.

Geoff Lucas, of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, criticised the universities for their "woolly, lily-livered thinking".

Research by BBC Music magazine found pupils could get A grades in GCSE music without being able to understand musical notation. It found that none of the main exam boards awarded more than 20 per cent of marks for reading music.

Damon Albarn, the Blur singer and Gorillaz co-creator, who was writing for orchestras by 15, said the discovery was "disgraceful".

"I think anyone interested in music should be forced to learn that discipline," he said. "In the past few years I have got back into it."

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