Universities are losing faith in A-levels

30th June 2006 at 01:00
Recent reports on the crisis in the exam system go beyond multiple choice questions ("Pick A, B, or C for a GCSE", TES, June 9), electronic marking or the annual August debate on grade inflation.

The most telling news is that elite universities are abandoning A-levels and setting their own matriculation exams ("University tests pile pressure on pupils", TES, June 16).

Last year, one student I taught took GCSE and AS exams but then had to take a separate matriculation exam in law, and when called for interview had to take another exam set by the instititution. A-levels finished off the sequence.

This means the student took five sets of exams in two years, two set by law faculties.

Your editorial is right to flag up concerns over the credibility of the exam system and the increasing numbers of exams. However, cutting back on the number of exams and trusting teachers is not an option as the debate on coursework indicates.

Cutting back on the quantity of A-level exams as proposed by the Government from 2008 will only intensify university scepticism about their worth. It is essential that there is a robust public exam system which can give teachers credibility. Increasingly, the exam system does not do this.

The problem lies with successive governments' attempts to get ever better results to provide a mass higher education system, as the Curriculum 2000 reform indicates.

It is also the case that exams have become politicised, as the fate of the Tomlinson report indicates. The system has become a political football.

Unless it is depoliticised, exams will lose what credibility they still have and a terminal crisis will develop.

Trevor Fisher 49 Lovatt Street, Stafford

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