A levels are A-OK

February 23, 2012

In response to the article "Do not throw that IB pearl away, richer than the impoverished A level" (9 February), I say, look to the extended project, vice-chancellors, not the IB: there you will find the pearl!

Sixth-form colleges such as ours pioneered the project five years ago and we now have 750 A-level students volunteering to take it alongside their A2s. It allows students to develop their own academic interests; it teaches research skills and how to present an academic paper; it provides that missing opportunity to "understand the interconnectedness" between subjects - and all this within the A-level system, which serves tens of thousands, rather than seeking to bring it down and replace it with one that still serves only penny numbers.

There is less broken about A levels than newspaper headlines might lead one to imagine.

Few national exam systems in the world can match the overall accuracy of assessment (and certainly not the unpredictable International Baccalaureate). Since the Curriculum 2000 reforms, students can take four, five or six subjects, so breadth can be achieved, and the A* does provide a band for elite performers. Look to another source for what "put out the light" in our students, whether following A level or IB. Headteachers, vice-chancellors and politicians may all feel a little uncomfortable. Might it be the pressure we all pass on to teachers to deliver performance in service of league tables, parent and student expectations and university offers?

Jonathan Prest, Principal, Barton Peveril Sixth Form College, Hampshire

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