It must be nearly A-Level time again

 by Martin Belam, 11 August 2006

As luck would have it I am back in the UK for one of my favourite British events of the year - the mainstream media A-Level results frenzy.

Or as I've come to think of it - a load of journalists who haven't had to sit an academic exam for years denigrating the hard efforts of a load of children who are emotionally at the age where they are probably least equipped to deal with failure in front of their peers and parents.

I've written about it all before of course, and the two things that really bug me. One the inability to move the debate about education away from a simple number-crunching of pass rates and grades to prove either that the system is dumbing down when results go up, or the education system is failing if results go down. And secondly the continual use of positive images of girls having exam success and boys being the face of exam failure.

I was reminded of all this because with a full week to go until the results are announced, yesterday's Evening Standard carried an editorial bemoaning the fact that children were taking "soft" A-Levels, naming "statistics, chemisty and physics" as the 'hardest' GCSE subjects, and saying that the trend away from taking these subjects can also be seen at A-Level.

There has been more coverage of this report around the press today as well, notably looking at the drop-off in the number of people taking physics at A-Level. This is of course seen as a complete disaster for British society. "What kind of grip are we going to have on the world if we do not understand its physical structure?" bemoans one of the authors of the study, Professor Smithers.

Looking at the comparison of the figures between 2000 and 2005, I had some ideas of the stories that could have been written based on the figures, if the press weren't obsessed with the knee-jerk doom'n'gloom that education isn't what it was back in my day etc etc.

  • Country to be more moral after an 80%+ rise in pupils taking Religious Studies A-Levels
  • 22.3% rise in Political Studies A-Levels brings renaissance of grass roots engagement with democracy and is bound to mean higher turn outs in coming general electiosn
  • Britian poised for disastrous future as entries in Computing A-Level slump.
  • Britain poised for golden future as entries in Technology A-Level soar.
  • More people taking Chemistry A-Level than Geography A-Level, which means that they may understand how CH3CH2OH works, but can't find their way home after drinking it.


There was a piece in the Guardian recently about how they're (finally) doing a small scale trial of delivering the results (and in some case, a copy of the fully marked paper) electronically.,,1834033,00.html

Rather takes away some of the excitement in my opinion, but there you go.

Good idea mate, great article as well.I have a question, Just wondering ... If the tories take over in the next general election, do you think our education system will get more efficient ?Thanks

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