The Conservatives have new proposals to try to improve standards in ‘A’ level education by encouraging schools to concentrate on the harder subjects. A new points system will rank harder subjects higher for league table purposes (and to give more points for higher grades). This is will be a positive step forward from the current system of ranking all subjects equally and all pass grades equally.
The Adam Smith Institute blog, I believe, wrongly objects on the basis that non-academic students will be pushed into courses that are wrong for them. For the true technical colleges these new standards will not matter. Achieving high standards in their core (softer) subjects will mean more to their reputation than pushing the less academic to do the harder subjects, nor will those students looking for more vocational courses feel compelled to study subjects for which they are patently unsuited. It will, however, affect those at the margins – those mediocre schools who want to achieve easy results, or those pupils who want an easier option to get good grades. It will push the average student to achieve excellence and the give a small prompt to the average school serve the best interests of their pupils. This one Conservative policy that will be a definite improvement.
However, I am surprised that the ASI does recognize what is left out of these proposals. The standards of examinations in the hard subjects, like maths and sciences, have become easier over the last twenty-five years. To reverse this we need diversity in examinations. When I did my ‘A’ Levels there were examination boards where some boards recognised as being more difficult than others. For instance the JMB board was recognised as the most difficult for maths. Universities could take this into account when making ‘offers’ for places. It is another area where competition can be used to drive up standards, and where top-down target-driven approaches serve more the interests of political spin than the interests of the people.