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Trinity College

Trinity College


How to change British State Education quickly for the better[2]

Stephen Bush[3]



Models for 16-19 Education in Britain

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There are many good State schools and teachers in Britain, achieving standards which are as good as any in the world.  Nevertheless average standards of learning are falling because large sections of the British educational world adhere to a faulty philosophy.  The purpose of this paper is:

(a)        to define this philosophy by what it actually does,

(b)        to say what it should be replaced by, and

(c)        to propose specific measures to effect the necessary change quickly and at no net cost.

1          Standards

Although still disputed in some quarters of the Schools Educational Establishment[4] – SEE for short – public examination standards have fallen dramatically in the last three years particularly.

Here are some facts about recent A-level standards from the Joint Matriculation Board, which has generally been regarded as maintaining standards better than most.

In the opinion of the examiners, the 1988 applied mathematics paper was easier than 1987’s; 1989’s was about the same as 1988’s, but registered a drop from 53 to 46 in mean mark.  In chemistry, 1989’s paper “was easier than previously as a result of a deliberate attempt to set ‘can-do’ examinations”.  In pure mathematics in 1989 “greater emphasis was put on . . . practical applications” to disguise generally simpler questions by comparison with 1988’s paper, which was in turn generally simpler than 1987’s.  The vital but difficult subject of calculus was further reduced in 1989.  Nonetheless, the qualifying marks for each grade in the combined maths papers were lowered by comparison with 1988 and the number of A grades increased from 17% to 20% of the candidates.

The reduction in standards and quality represented by this change is directly observable in University Science and Engineering departments, which are currently agonising over what to do about it.  One clear measure of this reduction is the response of Cambridge University, which has announced that its current three year course in Engineering will be extended to four years, specifically to cope with the decline in standards at A-level. 

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