'Soft' A-levels, Stem subject boost and the 'bigger picture'

26th August 2011 at 01:00

Professor Alan Smithers trots out the established common sense on what constitutes a worthy and proper A-level subject ("Pupils' choices 'influenced by ease of subjects'", 19 August). He states that "young people need to be aware that the traditional subjects are the main ways we make sense of the world and are the sort of subjects universities are looking for".

In my subject area, drama, that is also at the very core of what is studied. The fact that professors like him and some universities do not recognise this reflects their prejudice.

Has Professor Smithers not considered that a student might choose their A-levels for reasons of interest and passion, not because they are "soft"? Likewise, schools and teachers might be encouraging them to follow their passion and aptitude regardless of league tables.

It is time to challenge the apartheid in some universities regarding what is an acceptable subject. And we must acknowledge that Oxbridge and the Russell Group universities are not the best places for the brightest and best to study every subject.

For instance, why is analysis of Bronte more intellectually challenging than Kubrick in film studies? "Elite" universities should not be allowed to continue discriminating so ignorantly.

David Cross, Leicester

I was dismayed to read "Schools to be judged on Oxbridge success". We should be striving to provide an education system that prepares students for a fulfilled life on a personal, vocational and civic level.

Schools need the flexibility to create curricula and use teaching methods that will motivate and engage all students. Policies such as the English Baccalaureate and ranking schools by Oxbridge success, not to mention scrapping the education maintenance allowance and raising university tuition fees, do nothing to address the shocking class inequalities in educational achievement.

Tandy Harrison, Cambridge

'Soft' A-levels, Stem subject boost and the 'bigger picture'There is good reason to rejoice at the rise in popularity of Stem subjects ("Record pass rate as sciences climb and languages continue decline"). But physics remains deeply unpopular among girls. In fact, this summer the proportion of female A-level physics candidates actually fell, from 22 per cent in 2010 to 21 per cent in 2011.

The proportion has remained stuck at around a fifth for as long as I can remember. So, for me there will be only muted rejoicing about the Stem revival until this intractable problem begins to respond to treatment.

Sir John Holman, Department of Chemistry, York University

A-level standards are not analogous to the four-minute mile ("Forget the myths. What's the truth about A-levels?"). A four-minute mile run in 2011 is equivalent to Roger Bannister's 1954 achievement because the mile and the minute are well defined and can be measured reliably. A-level grades are not defined with precision and the instruments used to measure them - question papers and marking schemes - are neither objective nor wholly reliable.

George Bethell, Director, Anglia Assessment

Understandably, the focus on A-level results day has been on exam success - and there is plenty to celebrate. Teachers and pupils should be congratulated on achieving such amazing academic results without losing sight of the big picture.

The true value of pre-university education is in the development of the skills needed for more sustained success at university and beyond - skills of critical and creative thinking, independent study, reflection and communication.

Great education is not totally dominated by academic goals: pupils are encouraged to value respect for self and others, to assume leadership and to take responsibility.

Kevin Stannard, Director of innovation and learning, Girls' Day School Trust.

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