Don't abandon our gold standard

23rd May 2008 at 01:00
I read with interest your report (TES, May 16) on the comments made by Professor Niall Ferguson, who described our education system as narrow and parochial and held up US high school diplomas and the international baccalaureate (IB) as educational panaceas
I read with interest your report (TES, May 16) on the comments made by Professor Niall Ferguson, who described our education system as narrow and parochial and held up US high school diplomas and the international baccalaureate (IB) as educational panaceas.

First, we need to be clear that this charge of narrowness cannot apply to our whole system. From five to 16, pupils follow a broad curriculum. Given that this is the case, it is hard to see what is wrong with a degree of specialisation post-16.

Moreover, what sort of education dictatorship is it that does not allow pupils, after 11 years' study, to drop subjects they do not enjoy and concentrate on those they do? Surely, what positively differentiates the post-16 learning experience from what has gone before is not only that pupils have decided to stay on, but that they have chosen what it is they want to stay on to study?

Second, even if one assumes that a broad education is desirable at this level, both resources and time are finite. If pupils study a wider range of subjects post-16, it cannot be done in as much detail or assessed with the same rigour that it is currently. This certainly characterises the US model, where depth is sacrificed to breadth.

Granted, the IB is more successful at maintaining high standards across the board. But my experience of this intensive and demanding course is that it only suits highly intelligent polymaths who, even then, often fail to gain the coveted level 7. That is why it is mainly restricted to private and grammar schools. For those lower down the academic pecking order, it has little to offer either as a qualification or an educational experience.

It seems, therefore, that while the gold standard of A-level may have become tarnished, it still offers a brighter prospect than the heavily diluted US model or elitist IB courses.

Alex Smith, Head of English, St Olave's Grammar, Orpington.

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