Leader: A-level standards vary

August 22, 2003

A week on from results day, arguments are still raging about whether some A levels are easier than others. Although ministers apparently feel honour-bound to insist that they are all equally difficult, Carol Fitz-Gibbon cites authoritative research to confirm what any sixth-former knows: that whatever the pass rates say, standards vary.

Teenagers pick courses according to their ability as well as their interests. The rise of non-traditional A levels, such as photography and communications, may cause long-term problems for the supply of teachers in declining subjects such as physics and French. But what did ministers expect once schools started offering a wider menu? Indeed, what would have been the point if everyone had carried on as before? The new and much larger generation of sixth-formers was unlikely to have the same academic interests and talents as their highly selected predecessors.

Admissions officers are well aware of the differences between A levels and can vary their offers accordingly. Schools know that general studies, for example, will be accepted by some universities and not others. The potential victims are the sixth-formers, who may not be apprised of the status of different subjects when they choose A levels. Universities must make such detailed entry requirements public.

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