Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, says that while the A-level has suffered grade inflation, but diplomas and the International Baccalaureate are not valid alternatives.
Last week-end perhaps marked the beginning of the end for two educational myths. Not before time.
The first myth is that the International Baccalaureate (IB) is superior to the A-level. Having done their best to undermine A-levels, 'progressives' now hope it will be replaced.
This idea should have been demolished by an article in The Sunday Times, which reported that because they chose the IB over A-levels, more than three-quarters of the high-achieving youngsters at a 3-school consortium in Hertfordshire have missed their places at top universities. These youngsters and their parents had taken the advice of their headteacher, opted for the IB, and not achieved the required (and predicted) number of IB points.
True the IB has not suffered from grade inflation as A-levels have. But it is a broad qualification for clever, well-taught all-rounders. With passes required in all 6 of its subjects, compared with the A-level's stand-alone subjects, how can the IB be suitable for the brilliant young scientist who is weak on languages or vice-versa? Nor does the IB cover individual subjects in the same depth as A-levels. How can it?
Yet it appears that neither the Hertfordshire headteacher, nor those promoting the IB locally, made this clear to the unfortunate youngsters concerned. Instead, they were told, choosing the IB carried 'no risk at all.'
The other myth is that GCSEs and A-levels can eventually be replaced by Labour's new diplomas. Last week Ofqual, the exam regulator, confirmed that ministers' over-ambitious timetable for introducing their rival for A-levels, academic diplomas, will be adhered to.
The way diplomas have been introduced and the speed with which it has been done have been questioned for some time. But the revelation in The Sunday Telegraph that OCR, one of the leading exam boards, is on
the verge of pulling out of the programme altogether is a severe blow to the government and trendy educationists alike.
The previous week it was reported that it will be possible to gain a diploma even if a candidate fails one of its most important elements – the exact opposite of the way IBs are assessed.
In a letter to Ofqual, OCR's chief executive, Greg Watson, writes: "There is real concern that [with the diploma] pupils will ultimately be offered nothing more than a poor man's A-level or GCSE.'
The Hertfordshire pupils who were persuaded to take the IB instead of A-levels risked two of the most important years of their lives and perhaps much more. Another 12,000 youngsters are currently on diploma
courses that may, at best, result in a virtually worthless qualification.
The Telegraph leader said it all.