Sunday, January 06, 2008

Soft Subject Dumbing Down

Leisure Studies coursework

As we know, fewer than half of our kids get 5 A-C grade GCSEs including Maths and English. New figures this week will reportedly confirm the picture, despite those massive government programmes, and the systematic dumbing down of exam standards.

The figures will also highlight an increasing divergence between low A-C achievement in hard Maths and English, and much higher "achievement" in soft subjects:

"The figures will be published next week as part of a school-by-school breakdown of results designed to stop teachers inflating pupils' performance by encouraging them to take so-called "soft" subjects, such as media studies, at the expense of the basics.

Now the tables will show how the practice has been used to mask failings in English and maths. They are also expected to reveal that many pupils failed to gain a single GCSE higher than a C grade. Even though exams taken last summer produced record figures, one in five teenagers still leaves school with practically no useful qualifications."


But even more depressing is that there is now a similar picture at "Gold Standard" A Level- too many kids studying soft subjects hardly worth the continuous assessment paper they're written on. Indeed, some subjects are so soft, top universities now mark them down for entry purposes:

"TOP universities are drawing up blacklists of “soft” A-level subjects that will bar applicants from winning places on their degree courses.

They are warning that candidates who take more than one of the subjects such as accountancy, leisure studies and dance are unlikely to gain admission. They say they lack the academic rigour to prepare students for courses and are alarmed at the way increasing numbers of state schools are using them to boost pupils’ top grades."

The subjects concerned?

Just so you know, Cambridge lists the following A Levels that it reckons "provide a less effective preparation for our courses"- ie don't do them if you want to come here (the Major is especially taken with Leisure Studies):

Art and Design
Business Studies
Communication Studies
Design and Technology
Drama/Theatre Studies
Film Studies
Health and Social Care
Home Economics
Information and Communication Technology
Leisure Studies
Media Studies
Music Technology
Performance Studies
Performing Arts
Physical Education
Sports Studies
Travel and Tourism

So just to ask the obvious question, why are we teaching these subjects as A Levels? With exam subjects nobody takes seriously, it's not much of a prize for all. And while some may include useful vocational elements, dressing them up as A Levels almost certainly distorts and degrades their usefulness in that respect.

And remember too, this is all on top of those lower marking standards, whereby today's A Levels are two whole grades easier than twenty years ago (eg see this blog).