AUT tactics far from 'useless' 2

April 2, 2004

The decline in student numeracy and literacy ("Straight-A students show shaky grasp of the basics", March 26) suggests an alternative approach that the Association of University Teachers could take to advance its case for changes in pay and conditions.

Why not organise a campaign of industrial action around the deplorable state of school examinations and the knock-on effect this has on working conditions in higher education?

This would show the AUT to be acting in the interests of not only members, but also school pupils, teachers and the wider public.

One form of industrial action could be to agree to mark student work to a standard that returns the degree-class distribution to where it once was, taking account of the amount of time that students have available to them to study when many work part time.

A significant increase in the number of failures would tell the government that either reform in schools is needed for their 50 per cent participation target to be realised in a meaningful way, or that degrees should move to four years if higher education is to absorb the decline in standards.

Placing the burden on higher education continually to revise downwards the standard of first-year courses to accommodate the deficiencies of the school examination system without an extension in the length of the degree course affects staff morale, especially among those who would like third-year students to be at a point where they can contemplate a research career.

When weaker students cannot keep up with the rate of learning required it begs the question of whether this approach is sustainable long term.

Chris Keylock
School of Geography and Earth and Biosphere Institute
Leeds University

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