To say that A-levels are inferior is scaremongering

The pupil scored well below the minimum entry level when he sat the AQE transfer test
The pupil scored well below the minimum entry level when he sat the AQE transfer test
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In a comment piece in your paper on November 18, Stephen Elliott has suggested that the achievements of our young people at A-level are inferior because they don’t sit English exams.

To provide clarity on some inaccuracies in Mr Elliott’s comments.....



University admissions are well used to a huge range of level three qualifications from around the world.

They are no more going to reject CCEA A-levels for not being English A-levels than they reject Scottish Highers, French baccalaureats, or the Austrian Matura for not being English A-levels.

To suggest this level of parochialism reflects more on the writer than on English universities.

In relation to the inclusion of a practical assessment in A-level sciences‎, this is a position supported by the learned societies and many universities.

I would also point out that the 15 per cent practical work contribution in A-level science specifications from English based awarding organisations is not an assessment through practical examination.

It is paper and pen examination on the basis of practicals done during the year. The award does not include practical assessment.

I also want to make clear there is absolutely no evidence of a policy to limit access to A-levels offered by English-based awarding organisations.

Finally, in relation to Mr Elliott’s research claims, criticisms of PISA methodology have been strongly refuted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and it has pointed to significant flaws in the evidence behind the arguments presented.

What is significant is that while the success of our Year 6 pupils in TIMSS and PIRLS is often cited, including by Mr Elliott, there is no doubt that this level of achievement is not replicated in later years.

That is something that is of concern to me and I believe gives caution to the claim that our education system is world class; I am not aware of English ministers claiming their system is world class either.

Perhaps the falling away of the high levels of performance is the demoralising effect of telling half of our successful primary school pupils that they have ‘failed’ because they did not pass an unnecessary entrance test.

As Minister, I am guided by the best interests of young people themselves and have my decisions scrutinised by many. Our young people suffer more from the denigrating of our education system by commentators like this.

Our young people work hard for what they achieve and it is shameful that anyone would seek to undermine that.

John O’Dowd, Sinn Fein MLA, Education Minister