Are lessons as good as they were?

So, I'm showing my age here, but when I sat for my music 'O' level I felt I had really learned something in the previous two years. I had a good working knowledge of music theory, a rounded idea of music history (at least for the prescribed period anyway), and a love of the pieces we had been asked to study - Verdi's Requiem, Corelli's Christmas Concerto and some of the piano works of John Ireland. We weren't asked to perform or compose anything, which was a pity, but if that had been a requirement I think we'd have possessed the basic tool kit to do it.

My pupils who are studying for GCSE music seem to have a potentially more exciting syllabus, with far-reaching aims (including that performance and composition I lacked). But they tell me that they are in a fog about (a) what is required of them, (b) when it's required by and (c) how they are meant to achieve it. The continuous assessment element of the course means that they are taken by surprise when 'deadlines' are announced, often just a few hours away. And although they are handed factsheets about music theory it seems they have not actually heard any of these theoretical points as sound. How can you understand a rhythm if no-one has ever played it to you? How can you understand the pitching of notes on the stave if you've never been shown how to sing it? How can you perform when the school has no facilities for instrumental teaching? And how can you compose when the only tool you are given is a baffling and expensive computer programme and no actual coaching?

I'd love to hear from you about your experiences. If you're a teacher or student, can you reveal to me the answers to my worries?