Friday, 30 November 2018

Another little rant about education!

Yesterday I came across an article about university applications, the gist of which was that universities are giving out too many unconditional offers. These are offers of places at the university which are not dependent on students achieving certain grades at A-level.

Many years ago, when my cohort were making our university applications, a friend of mine was interviewed by the Fine Arts department at Leeds University and offered a place conditional on her achieving two grade E passes at A-Level. She almost turned them down, so insulted was she, thinking that the offered implied that they believed she was capable of no more than two grade E passes. Fortunately somebody on the teaching staff pointed out that really it meant that the university was so impressed by her work that they wanted to be sure that she would accept a place on their course. Which she duly did.

And that is partly what the unconditional offers are all about: bums on seats. Funding for educational establishments relates to the number of students enrolled. One university even offers a £1000 bursary to students who make that university their guaranteed first choice. They have to do this, of course, because some students will possibly receive up to six unconditional offers!!

Sixth form teachers are understandably concerned. Some students just stop working when they receive an unconditional offer. And sixth form teachers, like everyone else in the educational world, have to prove their worth by getting as many high grade passes as possible. Indeed, they need to improve their pass rate year on year! How do you do that if you reach the point where you have a 100% A-grade pass rate? (This continual push for improvement might explain the increase in First Class degrees being granted at present, with more than a third of students receiving a first at some universities. This is something which is also causing some controversy!)

On the other hand, there are those who say unconditional offers reduce stress for A-level students. Now, I know that mental health is a huge concern at present but surely the kind of stress that comes with the need to work for your important examinations is quite a positive stress. It’s like the adrenalin rush that helps you complete certain tasks.

What we should be doing perhaps is pushing for applications to university to be postponed until after A-level or the equivalent vocational qualification is completed. Then everyone would have to strive for the best they could achieve and teachers writing references for students would not be pressured to suggest that students could achieve higher grades than realistically possible. This is what happens in some other countries.

While I am having a little rant about education and exams and achievement and stress, here’s another thing. On Question Time on BBC 1 last night they talked about mental health, in particular young people’s mental health. One of the panel suggested that now that our young people have to stay in education or training until the age of 18 we should just get rid of GCSEs, thus eliminating a stress factor.

Other European countries don’t have GCSEs went the argument. Well, no, maybe they don’t have GCSE’s as such but they all have some kind of assessment at 16. This is how they decide what kind of post-16 course students should follow. Otherwise you have students with no aptitude for science opting to do a science-based course because they have always wanted to be a doctor!

I think the speaker in question was the CEO for the Weatherspoon’s chain of pubs/restaurants. No doubt having been to school himself qualifies him as an expert on matters educational!

Okay! Rant over! For the time being, anyway!

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