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August 21, 2009

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UK A-level exams yield best pass performance

SIXTH-FORMERS have once again performed better than ever in A-level exams, with more than a quarter of papers awarded a top A grade, British examining bodies said yesterday.

The proportion of A grades rose to 26.7 from 25.9 percent in 2008, following similar rises over recent years, adding fuel to the annual debate over whether the examinations have been "dumbed down" in Britain.

More than half of papers got at least a B grade, and over three-quarters were marked C grade or higher.

Girls continued to do better than boys, although the gap narrowed slightly. Top A grades were won by 27.6 percent of papers taken by girls, compared to 25.6 percent of those taken by boys.

Mike Cresswell, director general of the AQA exam board, dismissed suggestions papers had become easier, despite a steady increase in the pass rate over the years.

Simpler exams would be reflected in consistent rates of improvement across Britain, whereas in fact there were wide variations in the improvement in student performance across regions and between different types of schools.

"Naive dumbing-down arguments simply don't wash," he said.

He said some of the improvement in pass rate since 2002, when the exams were split into two parts, was due to weaker students dropping A-level subjects in which they had done badly at the A-level test after a year.

Earlier candidates were tested only at the end of the two-year course.

Greg Watson, chief executive of the OCR exam board, said improvements could also be explained by teachers becoming increasingly experienced in teaching A-level courses.

Next year, exam boards will introduce a higher A* grade as part of a revamp of the final year exam designed to stretch pupils with questions requiring more analytical answers.

The Conservatives say many state schools, especially in poorer areas, avoid entering pupils for "harder" subjects such as math, history or science. They say they would change school league tables to give greater weight to tougher subjects.

But Schools Minister Iain Wright dismissed the criticism.

"These results yet again explode the myth that so-called 'traditional' subjects are in decline - the biggest increases are in math, further math and economics with entries also up in English, physics, history, chemistry and geography."


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