Today was A-Level results day, so during the day on TV and in the media you probably saw this:
- A carefully selected “representative cross section” of students, pre-checked to ensure they get good results of course, to open their A-Level Results live on TV.
- Newspapers and newspaper web sites with lots of pictures of carefully selected groups of girls leaping excitedly having got their A-Level results – hey look here are loads and loads of them.
- Pundits saying that A-Levels are easier than they were in the past, heightened this year by the arrival of the new A* grade because too many people are now getting A grades.
- Politicians highlighting that the results are a triumph for their policies better educating our children, or alternatively an indication of the failure of the other lots policies and a fall in standards.
- Lots of advice on what to do if you didn’t get your grades and have to go through clearing.
I probably should have written this list yesterday, because the whole results day routine is depressingly familiar. The media do the same thing every year – in fact they do the same thing on almost every Thursday in August every year as the different exam results come out on different weeks. This year was amusing by the appearance of the Sexy A-Levels blog, which highlights that unlike the TV channels who have to show a representative cross-section of students – so you get a mixture of boys and girls, a couple from an ethnic minority and so on – the impression that you get from the newspapers is that most A-Level students are overwhelmingly white, young and pretty girls.
This year the annual “A-Levels have got easier” discussion was boosted by the arrival of the new A* grade which was needed to distinguish the increasing numbers of students getting an A grade – certainly if you look at the graph of percentage of students awarded an A grade on the graph on this BBC News story the growth is striking, even compared to when I took my A-Levels back in 1991. Having said that, the difficult thing about any comparison like that is the effect it has on the young people today. There may be more people getting the top grade, but they still have to work hard to achieve those grades, so it is important to try to have the debate without denigrating their achievement. Having said that, not least from the point of view of people who have to distinguish between applicants, whether that be for university or job applications, there needs to be more delineation. The A* grade helps, but it does seem a bit like adding an extra large to a range of sizes, whilst simultaneously making all the other sizes slightly smaller.
All of that aside, I know some young people who have achieved the grades they needed, and are now excitedly looking towards starting at university in the autumn, many congratulations to them. I also know a few who missed out on what they needed, and are even now trying to work out what to do, and going through the stress of clearing, to them commiseration’s, but don’t feel downhearted – I also know plenty of people who had similar results, and whilst it seemed like the end of the world at the time, came through it, and in a number of cases said it was probably a good thing in the long run, taking them places that they weren’t expecting. Whatever happened, good results or not so good, it is a big change for everybody, and I’d just like to wish everybody who got their results today good luck for the future.