Today's news

August 15, 2002

College concern over A-level surge
An unprecedented surge in performance at A level, with more than one in five entries obtaining top grades, sparked warnings from universities last night that the new sixth-form curriculum has left them struggling to differentiate between the best candidates. The proportion of A-level entries achieving at least an E or better has risen this year by 4.5 per cent to 94.3 per cent, the fastest rise in the exam's 51-year history.
(Guardian)

Pass rate soars as pupils play the system
Thousands of pupils and teachers have learnt how to play the new system of A levels and easier AS levels to their advantage. Figures released yesterday show that there was a record 50,000 fall in A-level entries and a startling 25 per cent rise in entries of the AS level.
(Daily Telegraph)

A 100% pass rate by 2004
Sixth-formers are on course to achieve a 100 per cent pass rate at A level within two years, it emerged yesterday.
(Daily Mail, Times)

Government hails leap in A-level pass rate
The pass rate at A level soared this year and brought the prospect of success for all candidates within reach for the first time as examiners pledged to 'drive failure out of the system'. The government and the exam boards said the rise in the pass rate showed that the new-style A-level system was letting pupils concentrate on exams they could pass.
(Financial Times)

Girls in a class of their own - again
Once again, girls outperformed boys in almost every subject at AS and A level, yesterday's results show. Girls took nearly 45,000 more subjects at A level and 90,000 more at AS level.
(Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail)

Maths 'crisis' as exam entrants tail off
Headteachers and business leaders warned yesterday of a national crisis in mathematics after A-level entries in the subject slumped by more than a fifth following the high failure rate in the AS level last year. The number of maths entries fell to 53,940 from 66,257 last year.
(Guardian, Independent)

Vocational courses harder to pass than normal exams
The government's new vocational A level proved harder to pass than the traditional exam, statistics published yesterday indicate. Education experts welcomed the figures, arguing that they were much better than the previous results for work-related qualifications.
(Independent)

What the papers say about the A-level results

  • the Guardian praises the restructuring of A levels for widening pupils' choice
  • the Telegraph says that an exam that fails almost nobody is not an effective exam
  • the Mirror applauds the results and sneers at the Tories who fail to credit an improvement
  • the Times deplores the consequences of what it considers to be a debasement of the A-level gold standard
  • the Independent argues, with qualifications, that a there has been a rise in standards but says the government should adopt the international baccalaureate
  • the Daily Mail congratulates successful youngsters but says the rise in the pass rate doesn't make sense

Cloud cuckoo land
Chris Woodhead argues that at the current rate of A-level progress everyone will pass and we will find ourselves in an educational cloud cuckoo land.
(Daily Mail)

'Clear out clearing'
John Clare suggests a move to a post-qualification application system as an alternative to Ucas's clearing.
(Daily Telegraph)
Should there be a move to a post-qualification system? Join the debate at thes.co.uk/commonroom

Scientists shocked at GM transfer
Weeds have become stronger and fitter by cross-breeding with genetically modified crops, leading to fears that superweeds may invade farms, American scientists have found. Allison Snow, who led the team from Ohio State University, confessed in New Scientist that she was 'shocked' by the results.
(Guardian, Daily Mail)

Mice may be used as human sperm factories
Researchers in the US said yesterday that they had paved the way for mice to produce human sperm, a development that could enable boys who undergo radiotherapy to have children later in life. Scientists at the Center for Animal Transgenesis and Germ Cell Research in Pennsylvania implanted sperm-producing tissue from goats and pigs under the skin of lab mice.
(Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Independent)

Institution goes down the pan
Campaigners marked the 150th anniversary of the first British public lavatory in Fleet Street, London, at a gathering at its nearest descendant in the Strand. The event's organisers, the Royal Society of Chemistry, bemoaned the closure of nearly half the public loos in just eight years.
(Guardian)

Treasure trove law puts museums under pressure
The stunning success of the 1996 treasure trove law, and the tenfold increase it has produced in the reporting of precious finds, is emptying the acquisition funds of museums. Some 221 items of treasure were reported in 2000, compared with 24 a year before. The downside is that the finders are entitled to compensation at the full market value and it is left to the British Museum, which has first refusal, or local museums to raise the money.
(Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Independent, Times)

Mutated gene gave power of speech
Scientists may have found proof that the inherited ability to learn to speak played a central role in humanity's evolutionary rise to global dominance. Researchers in Oxford and Leipzig reported evidence yesterday that tiny changes to a single gene over 200,000 years had put a gulf between humans and our closest animal relatives.
(Guardian, Daily Telegraph)

Just three cigarettes raise heart disease risk
Women who smoke as few as three cigarettes a day can double their risk of heart disease and premature death, Danish researchers have found. Dr Eva Prescott of the Ama Hospital in Copenhagen, who led the study, says in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health that the protective effect of the female hormone oestrogen is lost in women who smoke.
(Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail)

Scientists learn how to spin a super yarn
Silk has been found to have much more impressive properties than previously thought. Dr Zhengzhong Shao of Fudan University in Shanghai and Professor Fritz Vollrath of Oxford University have found that by carefully extracting silk directly from silkworms rather than from the finished cocoons, the properties of the resulting thread approach spider quality, producers of the ultimate thread.
(Daily Telegraph)

Giant vines strangle rainforest trees
Fast-growing vines are damaging trees in the Amazon rainforest, according to Dr Oliver Phillips, an expert in biodiversity and conservation at Leeds University. The result could be an increase in global warming.
(Daily Telegraph)   

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