General concern

25th August 1995 at 01:00
Please can someone explain something to me about general studies? Many sixth-formers are obliged to take up this additional A-level on the understanding that it will broaden their knowledge beyond the confines of their chosen subject specialism and will, when tested, prove that they have a balanced awareness of the world outside school.

All of which I highly commend and appreciate the work involved, especially as I watched my son prepare for his exam this summer. One of its strengths must be that it is a test of general knowledge covering many areas beyond the purely academic.

How is it, then, that the grade counts for nought when the student proves he or she can demonstrate this wide knowledge beyond the chosen specialising? Again, my son serves as an example: he gained an A grade for general studies, an A for French, a B for maths and, most unexpectedly, a D for economics, when he had hoped for better in order to get into the University of Bath to do a BSc in international business management, with French.

The requirement there was for a B in French, plus AB in two other subjects excluding General Studies (that is, a total of 26 UCAS points was required). He had gained 28 if you count general studies (and his best three grades); 22 if you do not. He is, therefore, unable to attend his first-choice university and will be going to his second choice, Aston, which was satisfied with all of his grades and wanted 24 points. He had been torn between the two universities anyway, so he is still pleased.

So what is the value of general studies in real terms? Why are we deluding our sixth-formers into believing that two years' study on it is worth A-level status when it clearly is not. Call it a General Studies Certificate, or some other award-bearing name, but do not try to pretend it has equal value with other A-levels, because it clearly has not.

Had we realised this earlier, we would have insisted that our son's efforts went into his chosen subjects and that he gave cursory attention to general studies, which in academic terms is not always worth the paper it is written on. Is there a hierarchy of universities where those demanding the higher A-level grades for entry refuse to accept general studies as a worthwhile A-level?

Thank goodness, however, that there are those of us who see the subject's value in other terms, and appreciate evidence of a range of knowledge.

S V WALSH

8 Blackbrook Close Walkhampton Yelverton Devon

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