A or B? Grades are all a lottery 1

February 20, 2004

I was delighted with coverage of Mike Tomlinson's interim report reviewing 14-to-19 education ("Extra grades on horizon in A-level rejig", February 13). But by concentrating on structural issues and emphasising the differentiation of A and B grades, you repeat uncritically the mistake in Tomlinson's original brief.

Policy-makers have perennially worried about the wrong issues in 16-to-19 education, focusing on the curriculum and the preservation of the "gold standard" of A levels. As your editorial ("No time to lose for fairer selection") suggested, wholesale reorganisation of A levels is unlikely to be introduced before the end of the decade, so any impact on standards will be delayed.

Far more important than structural tinkering is improving teaching quality.

Secondary initial teacher education neglects the development of effective teaching skills (the standards for qualified teacher status underplay the significance of teaching A level or vocational courses). Curriculum 2000 exacerbated the training gap, with busy schools able to offer fewer opportunities for trainees to become competent in Year 12 and 13 classes.

Tomlinson needed to consider how the next generation of confident and enthusiastic 16-to-19 subject experts are to be trained.

John Butcher
Centre for Research and Development in Teacher Education
Open University in the South.

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