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January, 2013

A levels – isn’t it wonderful that teenagers will pass or fail in three hours?

The Government has announced A levels are changing. Qualifications will now be based solely upon the ability to pass or fail within a three-hour window of time after two years’ of study.

A mum's view of changes to the A level

The Government wants students to pass A levels through examination only.

When I’m writing for anyone else, I would write about this dispassionately, reporting the matter and canvassing the points of view of others. However, here in my blogging space I can talk as an ex-A level student and as a mother of a teenager.

For me this decision is a dreadful backward step.

 

Let’s not sugar coat this – it’s also a way of lowering the number of people who go into higher education.

It reminds me of a cartoon I saw on Facebook this week, shared by a teacher, showing various animals standing in front of a desk where a teacher was telling them that their pass depended on their ability to climb the tree behind them. The animals included a monkey, an elephant, a bird, a fish….you get the idea. It sweetly encapsulated the problems of examinations when I was doing my O and A levels in the 1980s.

The truth is, we are not all the same and we excel in different areas and that’s how life is. I firmly believe the pressure of an examination is good and I advocate them – but I also believe equal weight should go to course work over the years which shows a level of consistency of achievement, or not, as the case may be.

For me that’s a fairer reflection of someone’s true ability. 

 

In my days  in the sixth form, I loved my studies and I worked very hard. I consistently got As and Bs in my work and that was the expectation for my final examinations. But I knew I wasn’t good at examinations. I found the pressure difficult to manage, I found revision overhwhelming, trying to cover everything all of the time. I didn’t know where to start and went for a scattergun approach. It didn’t work.

My fears were realised when I just about scraped through my A levels. I didn’t fail but I didn’t do well enough to go to a university in the country at that time.

Ironically there was an examination at that time called an S level – higher than an A level. It was in English literature and involved three questions, and you could take texts in with you. I was the only one in my school who took it, a week after all the other examinations had finished. Everyone was demob happy and I still had another exam to do.

Armed with my Complete Works of Shakespeare and Complete Works of Chaucer, I didn’t worry about that one, because I could take the texts in and I knew I could find quotations really quickly. Got a distinction in that exam – with a D in the A level itself.

I did a degree at a college of higher education where coursework counted towards your final result and I did learn how to revise more effectively. But from then on, any test or examination I have done, has involved assessment on the job alongside high pressure tests. For me, that’s more real.

I have a daughter who is like me. I can now see myself reflected in the way she studies and I’m trying to help her be more effective than me. It pains me to think that she may, just may, be disadvantaged in 2018 if she goes on to do A levels. Will she, like me, fail to deliver because her opportunity will come and go within three hours?

What kind of message does this give our children?

 

Happy New Year – my top ten festive moans…..

It’s 2013 and welcome to my Christmas and New Year top ten pet hates about the festive and holiday season.

Everyone has to have a rant now and then –  me more than most. So this week it’s the things which irritate me about Christmas and the New Year. Do let me know if you agree or, even better, what your additional gripes might be….

1. Reduced rubbish collection – the one time of the year when you are bound to collect more rubbish is Christmas, especially when you have children. So why are collections reduced or erratic at this time? I don’t buy the argument that people have time off – I’ve often worked over Christmas and New Year, and the only time I ever got paid extra money was for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day – and I wouldn’t expect a collection on any of those days. Recycling in Swindon is great – but not great when the bins aren’t collected. So I predict that for the next few weeks, the local authority will see an increase in its general waste and landfill costs because of the distruption over this period.

The tree must come down, along with all of the decorations….

2. Too many repeats on television – I love television, I work on television programmes and I know when goes into making programming. But is it just me or was the majority of programming over the Christmas period repeats? While some are accepted eg. The Christmas Carol, Mary Poppins – I felt there was little to look forward to in terms of new material. Also programmes were repeated loads of times. It’s the one time to draw people in but there were few highlights. Maybe, Miranda,  Downton Abbey special (which was horribly predictable) and the soaps (none of which I watch). Africa was one highlight too. The rest was pretty dull.

3. Turkey – I don’t mind a small turkey on Christmas Day but however hard I try I always end up with far more than needed. It’s the one time of the year when I try to buy an organic bird. I ordered one (I won’t say from where as that wouldn’t be fair) and asked for the smallest. I saw the tick on the list for a 4kg turkey – or around that weight. When it came it was more than 5.5kg – when I queried it I was told that they didn’t have many smaller ones so were having to move them around – without actually informing the customer. I was given no warning and it cost me almost £20 more than I was expecting to pay.  I did comment that if I’d budgeted for the amount originally quoted and hadn’t been able to pay that extra money – what would they have done then? Next year, if we go for turkey again, I’ll buy frozen.

4. Crackers – why are crackers so c**p these days? One of the joys of crackers is the bang when they go off, so many now don’t bang at all – and their contents are awful. And there’s not much choice around. It’s either totally rubbish or slightly better contents for twice the price. Why bother?

5. Round-robin letters in Christmas cards – I didn’t have any of these this year but I usually get a couple each year. It’s like a newsletter to a friend about your family’s achievements. I can’t put my finger on why this irritates me, it may not be logical, because I get them all the time in my business life and I don’t mind. Maybe it’s because it takes the personality out of a Christmas card. If you want to tell me something, just write a couple of lines. It makes all the difference.

6. The length of school holidays – as a working parent, this is something which bugs me often. Many people went back to work on Jan 2 including me  – but children don’t go back to school until Jan 7 or 8. Why? Believe me, most children want to go back to school earlier, they get bored at home, no matter what they’ve got to entertain them and they miss their friends. When you are self-employed, or in certain professions, it’s difficult to take yet more days off so inevitably child care is needed. Which means an expensive time of year becomes even more expensive.

7. Awful present dilemma – what to do with those presents you dislike but, as they’ve come from someone reasonably close, you have to keep at least for a while. We have had several of these within our household this year – can’t give too much detail. Some we’ve changed for other things, some we’ve put up with, some have gone immediately to charity and some we’ve put into the ‘spare present drawer’ for those times when you’ve forgotten someone’s birthday. But for the latter just be careful you don’t give them back to the same person. I’ve burned my fingers with this more than once.

8. What to do with Christmas cards? – we’ve got loads of this year, it comes with having three children at home. I usually recycle but as our bins are overflowing through non-collection and we don’t have cardboard recycling nearby – I guess they’ll live with us longer than usual. And for those of you who want to suggest that I make my own cards next year – it’ s not my thing but you can have then if you want them.

9. The way prices rise the minute the new year comes in – it’s “Happy New Year and here’s what it will cost you” . On New Year’s Day it’s rail fares, the Second Severn Crossing toll – it’s as if certain companies can’t wait to announce that you will be paying more money. This is on top of the fact that many families will face the inevitable credit card bill, rising energy prices as announced by my provider (I’ve now switched) and some of us are losing our child benefit this month. So in January 2013, I am considerably less well off than January 2012. Thanks a lot.

10. Taking down the decorations and the tree – has to be done of course and it’s not really a rant, just an observation. It’s a joy to put them up and a chore to take them down. And where to put all of those new baubles that you sneakily popped on the overloaded tree and that you are now going to have to own up to….and for me this year, an extra sadness. When we put up our tree in early December we took loads of photographs of our lovely cat Chloe covered in tinsel. Sadly a week later, she died following a seizure. And now I have to take them down and look at that tinsel and….well, you get the picture….

Our family cat Chloe who was part of my life for 16 years….

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