The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Private Enterprise

After years of declining standards, government-enforced unselectivity, and determined dumbing down of exams, Britain's independent schools are joining with Cambridge to do something about it:
Eton is among at least 100 leading independent schools to have shown strong interest in the Pre-U. Others include Harrow, Dulwich College, Winchester and Charterhouse.

But there are fears of the creation of a two-tier examination system for rich and poor pupils, with independent schools opting for the Pre-U and state schools remaining with the discredited A-level system.

Graham Able, Master of Dulwich College, who is on a steering group advising on the Pre-U, said the diploma would better prepare pupils for university....

Barnaby Lenon, Head Master of Harrow, said that A levels were flawed because too many pupils got top grades, examiners made too many mistakes when marking and coursework was vulnerable to cheats.

Tuition at English universities, including "Oxbridge" [Oxford and Cambridge, collectively], has historically been free [i.e., paid by the state] for British nationals. The state tuition payments have been set at the same level for all universities. Within the past decade, Oxbridge and other universities with something to sell have been allowed to institute "top-up fees" which are limited by law to 3000 GBP [5700 USD, but with the purchasing power of about 3600] per year. The Government has made clear that fees beyond this will be punished by the withdrawal of the government tuition subsidy. Cambridge, which is at this point financially and academically stronger than Oxford, has debated making the change anyway, but so far has not.

Meanwhile, the government-mandated "A levels" [a set of subject tests, roughly comparable to AP tests, taken by each British student at the end of his pre-university schooling] have been steadily dumbed down, and their utility to the top universities is dwindling. A new best grade, "A*" [the grade A is not to be confused with the A in A-levels], has been instituted, but it has quickly been caught up in the overall grade inflation.

There is an informal Ivy League alphabet: "A is for Average, B is for Bad, ..." In Britain this grade inflation is government-mandated.

[Cross-posted from Chequer-Board.]