Thursday, 16 August 2007

Oh, yes?

A-level results are in. And, guess what, they’re the best ever.

I’m sure that, like me, you have noticed how much more clever and articulate and knowledgeable young people have become in the past year.

You haven’t? Really?

Let’s see what the results are like next year – when they reduce the amount of coursework and test kids on what they know here and now.


Update: I apologize to my non-British readers; I should have explained. This is what Wikipedia says about A-levels: ‘The A-level, short for Advanced Level, is a General Certificate of Education qualification in the United Kingdom, usually taken by students during the optional final two years of secondary school (Years 12 & 13, commonly called the Sixth Form), or at a separate sixth form college or further education college, after they have completed IGCSE or GCSE exams.’


  1. I don't know for sure what "A Levels" are, but I'm guessing it's something like our "Achievement Tests," etc.

    I'm also guessing that the scores don't mean diddly since half the young clerks in the stores couldn't make correct change if the computer didn't tell them what the correct change is supposed to be.

    Not knowing facts is one thing, but these kids don't know how to think.

  2. Thank you for the reminder, TLP (see Update). As you can see they're not the same as your Achievement Tests.

    It's extraordinary: every year more and more pupils (I refuse to call them students: you become a student when you go to university) achieve the top scores and yet every year more and more employers, etc. complain that those same teenagers are practically illiterate and hopeless in a work situation.

  3. I heard today that not only are they going to introduce the grade A* next year because the A grade is achieved by one in four pupils and the desperate oversubscribed universities trying to pick their students can't tell the averagely bright from the very bright, but after that they are probably going to have A**.

    So - let's make everyone feel wonderful because what should in fact be a C (the third grade down and not that great) is called an A. Woo hoo! I'm an A student!

    What does that remind me of? Oh, yes. Condoms sold in sizes large, extra large and super-extra large...

  4. The English education system has never made any sense to me... still doesn't. However, it's no mystery that education is shifting its focus away from basics like spelling, grammar, and basic math(s) to information gathering, b.s. glossy presentations and "projects", and useless technology classes.

    I must admit taking keyboarding classes since age 8 has greatly benefited my life. However, learning to program Apple II computers... still haven't found a job market for that skill yet. I even took courses on making holograms with lasers in the broom closet, but was never taught how to spell or do long division!

  5. Totally besides the point (but I can't say anything intelligent about your main point since I don't know a darned thing about A levels) but for some reason, I had no idea the last 2 years of secondary school were optional in the UK. Do most kids finish? And what is the equivalent of a US high school diploma -- the GCSE? I actually looked that latter question up on Wikipedia but didn't figure it out.

  6. Thanks for the update Bela. I came back because I thought you would explain it to me.

    I imagine that your worst pupils are better than our worst. We seem to hand out High School diplomas to anyone.

    Bush's "no child left behind," is leaving the best and brightest uneducated here.

  7. In answer to nowsmellthis: yes, GCSEs are what you take at age 16 before you finish compulsory schooling. They used to be called O levels or 'Ordinary' levels, and the less bright people took CSEs at the same age, then they were combined to make GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education). You take between 5 and 9 of them, but most people take 7 subjects. When I was a young thing, maths, English, one science and one modern language were compulsory; the other subjects you chose at the end of the year in which you were 14 years old, i.e. the GCSE study is for two years, ages 15 and 16.

    After that, during ages 17 and 18, you either leave and get a McJob, stay on at school for ages 17 and 18 and do your A (Advanced) levels, or go to a Sixth Form College to take the A levels if you hated your school or it doesn't offer the subjects you want to study. You take them at age 18, most people study for 3 only but some do up to 5 (5 is for very, very clever people only), and you need a minimum of three, usually at grades A or B, to get into university.

    You can see that one difference between the British and the US system is that we start specialising and dropping subjects earlier.

    I think Bela finds the idea of leaving school at 16 so unthinkable that she sees ages 17 and 18 as *obviously* the last two years of schooling, right, Bela? LOL. Is leaving school at 16 perhaps less common in France than in the UK?

  8. Brilliant post. Laugh on line! Yes, isn't it a laugh that they get called 'students' at secondary school.

    The etymology of 'pupil' comes from Indo-European hypothetical*pu- = 'to swell or inflate', meaning that these little ones are still growing and have a lot to learn, as disciples of a teacher -- meaning that they should shut up and take in the pearls of wisdom dropping from their teachers' lips. The word 'student' means someone who is now properly capable of studying, like, say my PhD student. The world has gone crazy. I have to pass on the precious life-blood of our civilisation to these little stars when they get to university with their ten starred A's at GCSE and their three A's at A-level, and they seem to me to be totally illiterate and ignorant.

    My grandmother left school at 14 (this was late for the 1910s when many left at 12). She could write a perfectly lovely letter in copperplate with an even duct nad with capitals and full stops in the right places. Today's little stars have no idea what constitutes a sentence. The use of the comma for the full stop is so hideously ignorant. Am I the only person that just hates it and thinks, "How did they even GET an A-level when they can't pass Key Stage 1 [for our overseas friends, this is the tests they do aged 6, one of the main tasks of which is learning to write IN SENTENCES]?

  9. and they tell us not to teach to the test, and berate us if we bring the scores down, so we teach to the test, and the scores improve and everyone gets a pat on the back but, as you pointed out, THIS MEANS NOTHING REAL and helps no one but the fools who compile league tables. gah. and yeah, slap slap slap!

  10. L, yes, everything has to be artificially inflated in case people should have their self-esteem dented. It’s preposterous.

    ‘I must admit taking keyboarding classes since age 8...’: it’s obvious you’re too young to comment on my blog, audible. LOL! It’s such a shame you feel that most of what you were taught is useless. I can’t imagine not learning such basic skills.

    NST, I couldn’t have given you a better explanation than the one Lulu wrote. I hope you’ve got a clearer idea of the British system now. :-)

    TLP, I can’t comment on the American education system, but I would be surprised if this kind was only happening in the UK.

    L, thanks for the detailed and clear explanation.

    I don’t know how it is these days in France, but when I was at school you could obtain three different diplomas: the Certificat d’Etudes at 14, or the Brevet Elémentaire du Premier Cycle (BEPC) at 15, or, of course, the Baccalauréat at 18. Already by the 1960s, the Bac wasn’t worth much: one needed at least a degree in order to get a good job. I expect it’s worth even less now. But to answer your question - yes, I do find the idea of leaving school at 16 totally unthinkable, but I can see that some children are not suited to academic subjects and would be better off learning a trade.

    SS, I’m so glad you agree about the use of the word ‘student’: I shout at the radio/TV every time someone uses it about 13-year-olds. LOL!

    I’ve long been aware that most British schoolchildren are not taught grammar and spelling at school. Then some of them become copy-editors or proofreaders, when they can’t even parse a sentence and wouldn’t recognize an adverb if it jumped and bit them on the nose while they're reading.

    Btw, I only have two options: publish or reject. I can't edit. Sorry.

    J, the whole situation must be so disheartening for you. Such a thankless task! Do you see any solution?


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