The English media's A-Level summer ritual

 by Martin Belam, 13 August 2003

I should have put it in my diary, but I forgot that tonight is the last night before the A-Level media frenzy. Although individual grades won't arrive until the post tomorrow, the overall figures are delivered at midnight, just in time for tomorrow's newspapers and the breakfast shows of 24 hour news outlets. What a considerate media friendly government we have.

And my predictions:

  • If the pass rate has gone up it will be evidence of the dumbing down of the A-level qualification system.
  • If the pass rate has gone down it will be evidence of failure on behalf of the government's education policy.
  • There will be a quote from a leading academic or University Chancellor that students presenting themselves to university today are less qualified in the subject they are going to be studying than students 20 years ago. And simultaneously have a less broad education.
  • There will be clips of a gaggle of teenage girls celebrating their grades.
  • There will be a clip of a lone looking boy contemplating total failure at the age of 18.
  • And a discussion of why females do better than males at school without a discussion of how the media reinforces that image.
  • And a bunch of middle-age hacks will ruminate on how doing media studies is so less worthy than doing hard science. Whilst no doubt basking in the glow of their physics degrees.....

    <added 21:45 14/8/2003>

    ...Well as predictions go it was like shooting fish in a barrel, but it turned out to be pretty spot on...

    Images from the UK media about the A-Level results

    I guess I got lucky with the most reported quote from John Dunford listing media studies alongside psychology as the "easy" options, and I am still sure every journalist who filed copy on this issue today had all their A-Levels and degrees in much more worthy subjects. As predicted the images chosen to illustrate A-Level success were photogenic teenage girls, and the times went a step beyond the call of duty in making the cartoon denigrating the efforts of A-Level students feature a bone-idle boy watching football.

    However, and I promise I wasn't tipped off here, BBC News actually ticked the most boxes. They used a picture of girls on the front page, and the sub-headings on the story were "Girls stay ahead of Boys", "Exam subjects - easier pickings" and the fantastically Daily Mail-esque headline "Have Your Say: Lower standards?". In defence of their audience, despite such a leading invite to join the debate, the majority of the postings were defending the exams and the students.


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