Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Are A-Level Exams Getting Easier?

August 19th, 2011 No comments

This week saw thousands of teenagers across the UK get the results for the last two years of work they put into their A-Level courses. There has long been a debate about the standards required of students to attain passes in their chosen subjects which has focused on the fact that for the last 29 years more and more students have been passing with better results than in previous years. My friend Chris posted an article on his site today with his views on it and his conclusion are, that yes, exams are getting easier and the best way to handle it is to band results so that 10% get A*, 10% A etc regardless of individual results.

I feel quite strongly that students should be punished due to how well or badly they have faired compared to a completely unrelated group of people. Is it this year’s group of A-Level students’ fault if the previous 28 years worth of students did worse then they did? Absolutely not. Is there soemthing for us to worry about that the number of people passing their A-Levels has increased again? On the face of it, no. It shows that there are improvements in teaching methods, that modern teaching allows more people to do well in exam (and coursework) conditions. There are of course arguments to say that if things keep getting better then it is harder to differentiate between students and that it is impossible to differentiate between students who took their exams in different years. These are of course valid arguments. However, I think that by simply slamming the examinations as being too easy is just as bad as print media’s fascination with good looking teenage girls on results day when it comes to how we debate this matter rationally and without ruining the image of young people.

Chris’s proposed solution of a banded graded system was in fact the way that A-Levels were graded the early 1960s through to the late 1980s. With the massive rise in students staying on for A-Levels from their introduction in 1951, this system was changed for something more closely resembling the current model, i.e. where results are normalised and then graded based on specific criteria. This system has then been modified by the introduction of modular exams to combat the high drop out rate of linear courses (up to 30% in some subjects) and the realisation that the A grade was not neither norm or criteria assessed.

Essentially, my biggest argument against a banded system is one that Chris attempts to combat in his own arguments, the idea that banding prevents all students aiming for the top grades.

You could also argue that everyone deserves the change to get an A* if they achieve the required level. There are two parts to this answer, first of all, they have target just like the current system – except, instead of a specific number of marks, their target is to reach the top ten percentile, but either way they have a set, fixed target to reach. Secondly, you could argue that if everyone in the country all worked really, really hard, they should all deserve to get A*.

This is, quite frankly, a ridiculous argument. Not only is a banding not a target (how does one control their placing in a banded split?) but it doesn’t answer the underlying question of whether it should be possible for all students to attain the highest grades.

I would hope that any educational system allows for the fact that if all students who took an exam achieved 100% they would be all awarded the highest grade. This is not possible under the norm assessed system. Now I realise that this is not something that is likely to happen, which Chris also points out as an argument in favour of his system. I prefer to remain idealistic about our young people and feel that this should never be ruled out.

Chris does make some good points in his piece. He suggests that modern A-Levels are more about teaching individuals to pass exams rather than fostering an ability to pursue independent learning and developing research and critical thinking skills (although many subjects now contain modules covering these very things). I certainly experienced this style of teaching during my own A-Levels where I was regularly lambasted for asking questions beyond the scope of the syllabus and asking for proofs for concepts that outside of our required learning. This is certainly an area of concern for modern examinations. Chris also points out that it is getting harder and harder to differentiate between students. Again, this is a valid point. There should be some ability to compare one student with another. However, I feel that this comparison should only take place within any given year group. or within a few years either way (where the differences are very small, i.e. less than 1%). It is not appropriate to compare my A-Levels (nearly ten years ago) with those of today’s eighteen year olds.

This is something that is practiced, if not preached, in both the academic world and in the real world of job applications and interviews. A-Levels are a means to an end, not and end in themselves. They are used to demonstrate knowledge in a certain subject that then allows an admissions tutor or an employer to make a decision of suitability for a university place or a job. A-Levels are not, as Chris attempts to claim, a measure of intelligence and they never have been. There is certainly a link between the two, but it is not as profound as some would think. One of the best pieces of advice (although I expect it was meant as a dressing down) was from my head of sixth form. Mr Long sat me down one day and explained that A grades at A-Level were attained in one of two ways 90% application and 10% ability or 10% application and 90% ability. He went on to say that those with the 90% application were far more likely to see their A grade that those with 90% ability.

Differentiating between individuals is hard enough at the best of times, this is beyond question, but trying to do so on the basis of exam results is not always a guarantee of picking the best candidates. Their extra-curricular activities, their performance in interview and the statements of support from teachers and employers are key components of this mix too. Intelligence, learning, knowledge and performance are all different things, with different measures. We should not confuse them despite the lines between them blurring somewhat in this information age.

There isn’t a perfect system where everybody gets the grade they deserve. I didn’t get the grades my intelligence and knowledge deserved as didn’t put the effort it. I am sure there are those that didn’t get the grades they deserved despite putting the effort in because of other factors. People can only pass the exams that are put in front of them, with the support of the teaching methods provided bu their teachers and we should get off both their backs.

Yes, the system needs to be looked at. I think exams could be harder to ensure fewer people take places at university which means that a university degree is the epitome of academic achievement and not a useless piece of paper that leave 30% of graduates unemployed with inflated ideas of their career prospects. Yes, we need to make sure we are holding our education system to account for the standards they set.

However, vilifying our young people through shrieks of “easy” and “low standards” is not the way to achieve the robust education system we want to see.

10:23 Overdose Project

January 30th, 2010 No comments

Below is the press release regarding the national anti-homeopathy campaign organised by The 10:23 Campaign:

Consumers in Leeds to take part in nationwide homeopathic ‘overdose’ protest against Boots’ continued endorsement and sale of homeopathic products, despite the company admitting they have no evidence the ‘treatments’ work.

Leeds-based Consumer rights activists will be taking part in the protests on January 30th, culminating in a mass homeopathic ‘overdose’ taking place in towns across Britain. The intention is to demonstrate to the public that the homeopathic remedies sold by Boots are nothing but sugar pills, and put pressure on Britain’s leading pharmacist to live up to its responsibilities and ensure that the products it sells to customers are genuine.

The protest, organized by Leeds Skeptics as part of the 10:23 Campaign, comes after a Boots representative, Paul Bennett, attracted ridicule from the national press after admitting to a parliamentary select committee last November that Boots sells homeopathic remedies to the public even though they have no evidence the ‘treatments’ work. The Science and Technology Select Committee are due to release their report on homeopathy around the time of the protest, at the end of January.

The 10:23 Campaign is a national movement headed by the Merseyside Skeptics Society, which aims to raise awareness of homeopathy, a multi-million pound industry based on a long-discredited 18th century ritual, selling remedies to the public which have no scientific basis and no credible evidence for their efficacy beyond the placebo effect. While dispensing sugar pills may seem harmless, in reality the endorsement of homeopathic potions by leading health providers can have grave consequences. As well as potentially undermining trust in medicine and medical advice, customers may be misled into believing that they are treating their illness – for example a 2006 Newsnight investigation revealed that homeopaths were advising customers to take ineffective ‘preparations’ in place of antimalarial drugs. In extreme cases, such as the ‘healing therapist’ Russell Jenkins, deaths have occurred.

The Boots brand is synonymous with health care in the United Kingdom, and they speak proudly their role as a health care provider and their commitment to deliver exceptional patient care. Michael Marshall, a spokesman for the 10:23 Campaign, said the following:

“We do not expect the nation’s leading pharmacist to sell us remedies that do not work. The sale of homeopathic remedies is defended on the basis of allowing customer choice, but choice relies on clear information, and misleading customers by endorsing homeopathic brands restricts their ability to make good health choices.”

Ahead of the protests, an open letter to Boots has been published online and signed by thousands of unhappy customers from across the UK and beyond.

I made a girl cry…

July 24th, 2008 No comments

I am coming to the end of my O2 training, hence the lack of posts over the past few weeks, and we are focussing on the more difficult aspects of the job this week. Namely, IP Stream – or home access – broadband. This is the slowest of our packages and is offered to customers more than 9km from their local exchange. It is the hardest package to deal with due to the fact that BT still control their lines and not us which means a lot of faffing about. Our regular trainers can’t teach us this as they haven’t done the course themselves so we had to get a specialist in.

Her opening line was “I don’t really know anything about broadband and I am not an IP Stream expert…” and that was the start of the end!

By the end of four hours of ridiculous training, that had no logical progression, little relevance to our role and and incompetent trainer we had questioned and debated her to tears.

Now whilst I feel bad about that, it wasn’t entirely her fault – a lot of the the problems we highlighted to her had started in the previous weeks, but I didn’t feel bad about letting her know what I thought about the training and her delivery.

Yesterday, was supposed to be the second day of this two day course but she didn’t come back and we were informed that we were not going to receive any further IP Stream training before going live next week and we would have to learn on the job!

Twelve days to Avril…

May 17th, 2008 1 comment

That’s right, there are now just twelve days until Chris, George, Michelle and I head over to Manchester to see Avril lavigne’s latest tour hit town. I can’t wait, not just because it is a well earned chance to let my hair down but alse as it signifies my last exam – it being the day after the gig (I’ll worry about that later). Exams have been going okay this time round, although I am getting less adept at judging my own performance. I am putting the work in for these too, which is something of a divergence from past exam periods. I am even letting my revision disturb and interrupt my social life too! Although, that is less of a worry as the group’s end of exams/graduation celebtrations are going to make any event held now seema trifle in comparison! Check out the events at and take a loof for yourselves!

I have two exams this week, which are the two hardest of the ones I’m taking, so not much opportunity for relaxing. However, our main houseparty is on Friday so that should be good. Just need to learn all the Avril lyrics now so that I am not outdone by the ten year olds at the gig!!

Post with no title

May 12th, 2008 No comments

It has been a while since my last post and usually I would offer some flimsy excuse, blaming work or revision or illness. This time, however, I don’t really have an excuse except a slight apathy towards blogging recently. I cannot explain why that would be except maybe that with the last few weeks the idea of sitting down and writing a few paragraphs more than I need to has turned me off somewhat. Anyway, here I am, blogging again!

First things first, I am now the president of A-Soc, which means you can rest assured that there will be a plethora of A-Soc related psots appearing here and I will be linking to far more over at our offical website (shameless plugging for the win) and the new national site currently based at The A-Soc AGM went really well, we now have a good sized committee with hopefully enough enthusiastic members that we can really grow up this year and develop into the society that we should be. Our aim is to be the third biggest, by numbers and attendence, faith and cultiral society by the end of 2009/2010 which is quite ambitious, but achievable I think if we work hard and putt the effort in.

Next on the list is moving house. After three very good years here, we are looking to move onwards and upwards – mainly down to the fact that Chris, Sarann and Michelle are graduating and want a better house with more space and generally something more resembling a real life house. We have got as far as generating a shortlist and narrowing down our search criteria, but I think the bulk of the work will be carried out after this round of exams (the last round of exams for our graduates). Watch this space!

Talking of exams, I have a few this time round. I managed a lot of revision whilst at home this week, but I’m still only 80% confidant. It seems the older I get the less good at winging exams I get. This is a little bit of a worry as I have always relied on my adaptability and ability to get to the answer without necessarily knowing the answer. I suppose it just means that I will have to really knuckle down this time round.

Back to school

January 22nd, 2008 No comments

The first day back to school or work, or in my case university, after a holiday or time-off is always an experience, Today was no different. My first day back to uni after the Christmas vacation went relatively smoothly. Three lectures (well two down one to go) soread out over eight hours, always a nightmare, and a theme throughout this semester’s timetable. I have few consecutive lectures which means that I am stuck in uni all day every day!

Started a new course in philosophy of religion and resumed courses in programming and economics. Same old same old mainly. Philosophy of religion looks like it might be interesting but I think I might get annoyed with the rather large Christian contingent that makes up my tutor group!

Got some feedback on my CR11 mock today, which looks promising. Got an ok 2:1, not as high as I had hoped but pretty good seeing as I struggled with one of the large questions on the paper. Marks for the coursework will be out soon too. It is always exciting to get marks back, unless you know you have done badly!

Coursework 0 – Norman 1

January 20th, 2008 1 comment

It was a close fought contest, but I have eventually risen triumphant over my CR11 coursework!

I tarred and g-zipped my directory and am in the process of electronically submitting it as we speak! It is such a relief to have it behind me.

It wasn’t a particularly difficult task to complete , but it did pose some quite interesting problems and allowed me to develop a relatively complex python program from scratch that incorporated everything we have covered so far in CR11 as well as introducing databases and SQL.

My project solution involved writing a program that allowed a user to upload their own music collection and then perform a variety of tasks including searches, sorting and editing the data. As I say, nothing too fancy but a worthwhile exercise nonetheless. It also managed to inspire the hidden software developer inside me and I think I will be looking to run some further development in the near future.

End of exams

January 16th, 2008 No comments

Well as of today I have no more exams until June! From Monday I will be back into the swing of everyday university life, something I am surprisingly looking forward to. Examination periods, although a necessary evil, do tend to ensure that I get well behind on other projects – such as CompSoc and A-Soc stuff I have to do, coursework that is due and personal relationships that are starved somewhat of attention.

I think the exams went well enough and I am confident of good passes ina ll the exams with hopefully a few fists dotted in for good measure. They will, of course, be meaningless as this year is entirely formative but I think they are a good indicater of progress and allow for some positive feedback and constructive criticism from the teaching staff.

Speaking of results, best wishes to all those who are waiting on significantly more important results with regards to their degree courses and ultimately their career choices! I hope that you all get what you need to make sure you get where you want to be!

Coursework be damned!

January 9th, 2008 2 comments

On several occasions today I have been very close to picking up my linux machine and throwing it out the window, quite literally!

I have been trying to install and run MySQL and Apache so I can put together my CR11 database coursework. MySQL was no real effort, just sudo apt-get it and wa-hey away you go – pretty self explanatory and a rather robust piece of software, not that I am overly qualified to make that sort of statement, lol.

Apache on the other hand has really done my nut in. Firstly, it took all day to install and run properly after hours of fiddling with apr’s. Secondly, I don’t seem to be able to link Apache with the files I am using to write the program, either tells me I don’t have permission or that it can’t find the files! Any help on this apsect much appreciated. At the moment I am tempted to give up and head into DEC-10 to do my coursework, but after shelling out on a machine that’s supposed to do it at home I don’t really want to take that step.

Pre-examination Stress

January 9th, 2008 1 comment

Well, my first exam of this year starts in a little under seven hours and I am still awake. Don’t get me wrong, I am as prepared as I ever have been for an exam. I actually am convinced that I will get a very high mark regardless of the question that come up even bearing in mind I have not taken an essay based exam paper since my GCSEs in 2001! I am just suffering from pre-exam nerves, or possibly over stimulation from the fact that I have been feeding my brain philosophy and logic for a week solid now…. Who knows?

On a slightly different note, A-Soc had a screening of The Da Vinci Code which was a welcome break from the seemingly endless reading, writing and watching CSI! There was a modest turnout, we managed three, which is not too surprising as it is the first week of exam week and the first real week back to work for most of our adult members. Even though, I was hoping for more – watching a video is not exactly taxing and even at nearly two and half hours long, it doesn’t fill up too much of an evening. We did a new face turning up so not a total watse of time. It’s not a bad film either in all honesty. it doesn’t get the reviews it deserves and most people I know slate it due to the variation from the book. To be totally frank though, the film is good. It is well acted, benefits from the screenplay differences and is a genuinely enthralling conspiracy thriller. Slate it if you dare. Plus Dan Brown is a twit, a profit mongering, semi-talented, sell-out of an author; for whom I have infinite respect. I wish I could churn out that kind of material with little effort or quality and make the kind of money he does!