Traditional subjects in decline?

This is an ongoing debate, however, figures released today by the DCSF suggest that fears that ‘traditional’ subjects are in decline, with fewer students studying them to A Level may be exaggerated.  In terms of A Levels, entries for Maths, Further Maths, and Physics have risen and are not at their highest level for over a decade.

Other ‘traditional’ subjects, including History, Geography and English continue to be popular choices for A Level students.

It does then appear that there is no need to panic.


A Level Results

Various News headlines are today reporting a record number of A  Levels entries have been awarded A grades.  This year over a quarter (26.7%) of A Level entries have been awarded an A grade.  This is an increase on just over 25% least year and represents a new record.

One of the implications for the increasing pass rate and increasing number of top grades being awarded is the pressure on University places with demand this year outstripping supply. 

Today’s news reports also inevitably discuss the issue of dumbing down.   Today’s Daily Mail reports calls from the chief of the OCR exam board to make A Levels harder.  The Times  joins in with the debate and considers the possibility of ranking A Levels with percentages.  The Independent also reports on calls to “crank up the standard”, observing that Universities struggle to distinguish between candidates when so many achieve the top grades.  However A level grades should never be the only criteria by which Universities select their students

The overall theme is that the increased pass rate and increased number of A grades awarded is evidence of ‘dumbing down’ or falling educational standards.  Rather than take increased grades being taken as prima facie evidence of increased standards, this evidence is rejected.  The opposite must be true.   Chiefs of the examining boards contest the idea that A Levels are being dummed down. 

Some Facts to consider…

  • Over 60% of applicants have had their University places confirmed so far
  • The Government has made an extra 10, 000 places available to cope with the anticipated extra demand for University places this year (brought on by a number of factors, including demographic changes and recession)
  • This year competition for University places is greater than in previous years
  • This year there will be a record number of people studying at University as participation continues to widen
  • 40% of students receive a full grant to support them during their time at University

Statistics on pupil attainment at small area level

Today the DCSF announced the release of small area,  National Curriculum Assessment GCSE and Equivalent Attainment and Post 16 Attainment by Pupil Characteristics in England, 2008.   This means that  you can use the National Statistics’ neighbourhood statistics service to examine educational attainment for local geographic areas.  The statistics reveal patterns of attainment – for example a relationship between gender and attainment.  However by looking at this data for small areas (areas smaller than local authority areas) it is possible to see that differences between genders is not the same in all areas of England.  In some areas the gender gap is widening while in other areas in is narrowing.

These figures provide useful evidence for differences in educational attainment which are aligned with existing inequalities in society.   The DCSF reports that more data will be added soon, to include Free School Meal eligibility and pupil ethnicity.  Accompanying the release of the data is the following Map of Key Stage 2 Average Point Score by Local Authority District of school location, 2008.  This shows that the average point score of a pupil differs according to the area in which the pupil’s school is located.  Again it is interesting to consider how these differences are related to the social characteristics of these areas.


University places: State vs Private

It is only a few days until this year’s A Level Results are published.  This  year marks are expected to go up – for the 27th year running.  A Level results are of course influential in securing a University Place.  Top grades at A Level are oneof the ways a student can secure a place at one of the elite Universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge.   However a student’s chances of getting the top grades at A Level and securing a place at one of the most elite Universities is heavily influenced by the type of school that student goes to. 

In 2008 7.7% of pupils in comprehensive schools achieved 3 A grades at A Level compared with 31% of pupils from private schools. 

This amounts to educational inequality.

The implications of the inequality is discussed in this article from Polly Curtis and Tracy McVeigh in this Sunday’s Observer.  They  tells the story of two A Level students who are hoping to secure places at Oxford; one from an elite private school and the other from a Comprehensive.