Page last updated at 15:07 GMT, Friday, 21 August 2009 16:07 UK

Reactions to A-Level results

A-level pupils
Students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland received their results.

The annual publication of A-level results has provoked discussion around subjects including whether the exams are becoming easier, the increase in university application rejections, and the effect of the recession on 18-year-olds.

Describing itself as independent and left-leaning, the Orange Party blog finds fault with A-levels:

Mickey Mouse A-levels and dumbed down exams. Too many fresh faces chasing too few places. Thousands of pupils now anxiously await the fickle finger of fate with the all too familiar record results and record straight As. The inflated exam results bubble lets everyone down.

The Independent reflects on the rise in applications not being met by universities:

There is an irony in this year's record level of applications. If there had been as many university places as qualified applicants - as there has been more or less in recent years - this government would have come close to reaching the target it set itself of having 50 per cent of school-leavers going on to college. It will fail this year, not because applicants are lacking, but largely because supply of places has failed to keep pace with demand.

London Liberal Democrat councillor Meral Hussein blogs that the anxious wait for her son's results brought up some common issues:

I'm a very proud mum today.
If he hadn't got a place, he was adamant that he would take a gap year and 'get a job', and do his retakes, as there was nowhere else he wanted to go. Had to point out that this is no longer an easy option for an 18 year old with no work experience, so there have been some difficult conversations.
But it does put into sharp contrast the rising number of what are now cutely called NEETS - meaning not in employment, education or training.

The director general of the Russell Group of British research-intensive universities Dr Wendy Piatt argues that underfunding is not only denying university places to applicants, but will also hinder efforts to climb out of the recession:

A generation that has to cope with the credit crunch now faces the clearing crunch... But at least this week's scramble for places has exploded one persistent myth: that introducing tuition fees would put students off higher education. Despite all the scaremongering on debt, demand has never been greater - and the big question for the government, whoever wins the election expected next year, is how to cater for that surge in demand and produce the future graduates the country will need to emerge from recession.

The Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute Bahram Bekhradnia agrees in the Independent that increased applications suggest that students are not put off by potential debt.

Pen and paper
Many students might have to go back to the drawing board
Whatever the perceptions of this 'debt', young people are not being deflected from going to university, and demand for university places is increasing. That is rational, even if the rewards that were once available are no longer guaranteed. As increasing numbers attend university, so good jobs that may once have been accessible without a degree are reserved for graduates.

In anticipation of the results, Wednesday's Telegraph opinion column suggested that results day should be a cause for celebration rather than for anguish, even if it leads to years of debt:

A university education is worth investing in (though this does not apply to all people or to all courses). Over a working lifetime, it is likely to lead to a substantially higher income, because promotion opportunities are greater. Of itself, it is a life-enhancing experience.

In his blog as a local councillor and school governor, Your Voice of West Lindsey, Kristan Smith looks to what the future will hold for these A-level students and what that will mean for society:

The flip side of the celebration comes down to the struggle in the jobs market that these students are going to have... The government needs to put the right incentives in place to allow businesses to survive whilst bringing on the next generation of workers. If our politicians are going to make things better for the country, serious time and money needs to be invested in the future of the next generation of workers. In 20 years time, they will be the middle management running the country, they need our help and guidance now to stop making the mistakes we have. Waiting a year for help is too long - most employers want to see some work history.

The Guardian's main opinion piece says an A-level is not worth as much as it used to be:

The A-level argument is the same each year, but this year was different in one respect: this year it has a consequence. The 27th annual climb in the grades met with the usual mix of cheers from the sunnily disposed, and howls of 'dumbing down' from those inclined to believe things can only get worse. Yet as the ritual row gets under way, thousands of youngsters who have shared in the bumper results are discovering that they are indeed a debased currency when it comes to securing a university place.

In his blog Politics For Novices, Michael Gradwell worries that giving ever more high grades is a problematic form of praise:

Students at Ballymena Academy, Co. Antrim
Students are celebrating in Northern Ireland, England and Wales.
This week teachers have a duty to support their pupils. I like to give praise whenever I can. It does good, and it helps build relationships. When it comes to telling 16 or 18 year olds how they have done in GCSEs and A levels, the tendency is to praise. You may send cards congratulating teenagers that you know. Teachers deal with pupils on a daily basis. I have met them at many parent teacher evenings and the tendency is for them to talk about something good, then something that needs improving, then something good. This is how it should be. But there has to be some way of providing praise and moral support without doling out three times as many grade A's as in 1970.

Allison Pearson argues in the Daily Mail that what she calls "spoon-fed A-levels" fail everyone:

Years of New Labour's social engineering have created a system that is so 'equal' that it fails almost everyone.
It fails those at the bottom by giving them false expectations and a dodgy course at a bargain-basement uni where the only thing that is guaranteed at the end of three years is £23,000 worth of debt.
It fails the brightest pupils by not stretching them - even steering them away from hard subjects so they get grades that make schools and politicians look better.
Let's be candid. Universities now trust A-levels in roughly the same way that Peter Andre trusts Katie Price.

A Telegraph opinion piece says A-levels have become unfit for purpose:

In short, the system has become something of a confidence trick, eagerly promoted by a Government fixated with meeting its foolish pledge to put 50 per cent of young people through university. It has forced the better universities to develop their own admissions criteria, rather than relying on A-levels. Removing the cachet attached to A-levels has also diminished the value of a first degree, leading many cleverer students to pursue postgraduate studies. This is immensely wasteful.

In his blog, Anthony Painter argues A-levels have not got easier:

University library
The government want 40% of people to attend university by 2020
But what has happened is that since league tables, Ofsted and the like, we are now far more likely to teach to the test- much as Mr Ralph did with my class (and I'm very glad he did). Moreover, there are far more consequential results with so many more university places available. The reason I found a way around the system? I needed a 'B' grade minimum. There are so many more pupils chasing grades to secure a university place so they learn how to do well at exams (either by understanding the subject- the better route- or by, like me, learning what the examiner is looking for.)
So the incentive to improve is strong for schools/teachers and pupils alike.

The Sun says just focus on saying "well done" for students' hard work:

But this is not the moment to question whether the exam has become easier.
Instead, let's concentrate on congratulating the 300,000 students who sat A-levels this summer.
They have worked very hard. And they face a tough future.
At least 40,000 won't get into university because of pressure on places. And jobs are hard to find.

Frank Skinner says in The Times that a casual joke about A-levels getting easier brought home to him his own prejudices:

However, my casual aside about getting A-level maths for knowing your nine times table did not go down well with the assembled youth. They seemed properly hurt. I thought about this after the show. I'd accidentally been guilty of inverted ageism — that anti-youth attitude which seems to be becoming the country's favourite brand of bigotry. The anti-youth lobby's sniping sounds unnervingly similar to racism — they're lazy, they rut like wild animals, they don't try to mix with us, they don't dress like us, they speak a different language and, most popular of all, they're so thick they can barely read and write.

Also in the Times, Lucy Tobin considers the life lessons learned at university including how to make a mean spaghetti bolognaise. The Times lists reams of successful people who didn't go to university from Churchill and Wellington to Sir Tom Stoppard and PD James. And Professor Martyn Jones says that his academic life started in the clearing process and has some advice for others in the same predicament.



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