23 August 2009

I see the English A-level results are out. They make disappointing reading. Today no-one fails. After a lifetime spent working in university admissions, never have I seen a time when practically every applicant offers straight As or Bs. Years ago, this was rare - such students inevitably going to high-flying medical schools. Universities are now reduced to offering their own more rigorous entrance exams, making a nonesense of the A-level exam in general.
So, what does France do? At 15, continuing education is decided by exam, students with the greatest aptitude going to a lycee (high school) until 18 to study for the baccalaureat exam. In the second form, students can choose to follow the vocational system in law, science, medicine, dentistry, fine arts etc. or the more rigorous selection system. A much better system.
In today's Guardian, the UK government-appointed science tsar, John Holman, says that science exams are 'not fit for purpose'. I would go further and say that the whole English education system is not fit for purpose. Many years ago I wrote to the then Education Minister, Sir Keith Joseph, and said that what was needed was to retain the excellent grammar school system but to upgrade the old English secondary-moderns to new, improved technical schools offering apprenticeship schemes allied to industry. But, what did they do? Abolish the grammar schools, and send everyone to dummed-down Comprehensives! If only they had listened to me!

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