A Level

I noticed today that one of the followers of this blog has been busy working for his A-levels. I wish him luck.

Of course this brings back memories of a time when A-level was a very new phenomenon. They were only invented in 1951 so when I came to take them in 1960 they were just about established. My mother used to talk about School certificate and Matriculation which meant nothing to me at the time, although in later years I came to understand the connection. I did do an earlier post about school certificate an O level. http://wolvertonpast.blogspot.com/2008/09/school-curriculum-1931-1958.html
Back then everything depended on the single dice throw of an examination, although in most subjects there were at least two papers and, in sciences, a practical. They were nervous times indeed and many hours were spent trying to saturate the brain with the required knowledge. The system was also very unforgiving. If you missed the exam you failed. There were no allowances for good coursework, teacher recommendation or minor illness. If you had a cold you dragged yourself to the examination hall and did what you could because it was highly unlikely that your illness would be understood or sympathized with. If you had polio or some other very serious illness then you might be considered for an aegrotat pass, but that was about as much tolerance as the system at that time had. Your other option was to take a new exam, possibly in January or the following Summer. Either way you lost a year.
The pass mark was 40%. Examiners in those days had the full range of marks at their disposal so 40% was acceptable. A mark in the 60s could get you a place in higher education and in the 70s you could be assured of a place. Marks above 80% were rare.
We took our exams in the Church Institute, in the downstairs hall. In earlier years the exams were taken in the school hall at Moon Street, which was essentially sealed of for the period with prefects enforcing silence in the vicinity.
I am tempted to comment about todays A-Levels but I won’t. Things change. They changed from my parents’ day when a locally issued School Certificate was an acceptable standard, to my day when a nationally monitored standard was introduced, to today’s standard which has to accommodate a far larger slice of the population.

School curriculum 1931-1958


I just discovered my Mother’s school certificate, awarded in 1931. I’ve contrasted it with my GCE O Level, taken in 1958. We both went to the same school and in some cases had the same teachers, but things did change over a generation.
In 1931 she studied:
English Language and Literature
French
History
Geography
Mathematics
Botany
Art
Needlework (These subjects written on the back in Mr. Boyce’s elegant handwriting.)
In 1958, I took:
English Language and Literature
French
History
Geography
Mathematics
Latin
General Science
Additional General Science.
6 subjects were identical; the other three represented changes.
The obvious difference was that some of the subjects she took were gender-specific. like Botany and Needlework. Although Physics and Chemistry were taught there in 1931, they were not taught to girls. It is also probable that the Zoology aspect of Biology was not deemed appropriate for a girl’s tender sensibilities.
In my day we were required to drop subjects like Art and Woodwork in favour of more academic subjects. Physics, Chemistry and Biology were lumped together  for a General Science paper, but in 1957, after the Russians launched the Sputnik satellite, there was a great scurrying around to improve science teaching. As a consequence, we were given extra science lessons and entered for an extra science paper called Additional General Science.
Later, Physics, Chemistry and Biology were offered as separate papers