Leader: Think again on A level

August 25, 2006

Now that the dust has settled on this summer's A-level results it becomes even more obvious that the whole system is in need of reform. The beginning of a flight to the International Baccalaureate (IB), encouraged by over-generous tariff scores for university entrance, has been followed this week by Cambridge University's list of no fewer than 20 A levels that provide a "less effective preparation" for its degrees. General studies and critical thinking did not even feature among this group, as they would not be accepted at all for a conditional offer.

With grade inflation prompting a move to the use of individual module scores and an A* grade on the horizon, the time has surely come to revisit the issues in the Tomlinson report. Ruth Kelly, as Education Secretary, was understandably reluctant to undermine the "gold standard" and was not convinced by the merits of an overarching diploma. But Alan Johnson, her successor, has more self-confidence and must see that the gold standard is already undermined. Without some action, the system will fracture, with many more academic schools switching to the IB and A levels dividing even more obviously into two tiers.

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