Experts: let's axe grades in A levels

January 25, 2002

A-level students could be given marks instead of grades to help universities judge candidates in the face of grade inflation.

The move, which has been welcomed by admissions tutors, was recommended by a panel of experts. It found that A-level exams may have become easier to pass as examiners tend to be generous to borderline candidates.

The panel, chaired by Eva Baker of the University of California, Los Angeles, shied away from any firm conclusions on whether the annual improvements in A-level results meant that standards were falling.

It said that a tendency to give the benefit of the doubt to candidates on the threshold between grades or to lower the threshold could be partly to blame.

The panel, set up by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, recommended that the QCA "investigate the extent to which universities would be willing to use uniform marks rather than grades".

The proportion of students obtaining grade As has risen from 12 per cent ten years ago to 19 per cent this year. Admissions officers are finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between candidates.

Sue Stobbs, director of admissions for the Cambridge University colleges, said admissions tutors could make better decisions if they saw marks. Almost all Cambridge students have three grade As, and each year Cambridge rejects about 3,000 students with top grades across the board.

There has been speculation that Downing Street advisers have been pushing the Department for Education and Skills to introduce an A* grade for the highest achievers.

Jane Minto, head of admissions at Oxford, said the university would welcome "all developments that allow us to distinguish between people achieving at a very high level". She said that being given students' marks would help, but more sensible would be consideration of a post-qualification application system.

• The A-level's gold standard status was shaken again this week by a series of examination and marking blunders.

Education secretary Estelle Morris demanded an inquiry into exam body Edexcel, which admitted that it knew about a mistake in an AS-level maths paper before it was sat by 2,500 sixth-formers.

There were also claims of a mistake on another Edexcel AS-level paper. Downing Street criticised Edexcel's work as "shoddy", and the QCA sent in a troubleshooter.

A survey by the Association of Colleges found that two-thirds of colleges rated the performance of Edexcel last year as poor.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

James Fryer illustration (27 July 2017)

It is not Luddism to be cautious about destroying an academic publishing industry that has served us well, says Marilyn Deegan

Jeffrey Beall, associate professor and librarian at the University of Colorado Denver

Creator of controversial predatory journals blacklist says some peers are failing to warn of dangers of disreputable publishers

Hand squeezing stress ball
Working 55 hours per week, the loss of research periods, slashed pensions, increased bureaucracy, tiny budgets and declining standards have finally forced Michael Edwards out
Kayaker and jet skiiers

Nazima Kadir’s social circle reveals a range of alternative careers for would-be scholars, and often with better rewards than academia

hole in ground

‘Drastic action’ required to fix multibillion-pound shortfall in Universities Superannuation Scheme, expert warns