Key skill results were a disaster

4th May 2001 at 01:00
We feel compelled to write to you about key skills and the stranglehold that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has exerted over this initiative.

In 2000, key skills was presented to schools with sixth forms as a means by which employers and universities could see that potential employees had received a well-rounded education.

School representatives went on courses, saw exemplar material and were even consulted on syllabus development. At this stage we were happy: we were assured by exam boards that the Communications level 3 exam would be pitched at the level of a student who could achieve grade B at GCSE English.

Suddenly, last autumn, the standards of the portfolio shifted: parts of Communications level 3 were degree-level standard; images had to be used in a way that was comparable to presentations by public relations officers. The portfolio requirements for Application of Number became so demanding that only students doing AS biology have managed to fulfil them.

Apologetic exam board representatives expained that the QCA had seized control and had decided to "improve standards" midstream.

Urmston grammar is privileged. At A-level over 98 per cent of students pass. Yet these are our key skills results. In IT, 66 per cent failed, in Communications, 51 per cent, and in Application of Number, 28 per cent.

Individual results were even more inexplicable. In communications, one student who had achieved 99 per cent at English literature GCSE failed. Similar trends were found in IT and Application of Number. We have had to tell students that the goalposts have been moved and that - for the first time in their lives - they have failed an exam. What makes this absurd is that we can confidently tell them that they will pass their A-levels at a high level.

QCA have ruined an initiative that was full of good intentions and are presiding over one of the greatest potential failures in education for 20 years.

Mike Parker, Johnny Morris, Judy Smith, and Richard Tighe Urmston grammar school Newton Road, Urmston Manchester


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