A level of solace

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 19 August 2011 in Diary
A levels have not dumbed down and a British college education is amongst the best in the world. We should celebrate our young people’s achievements this week and keep a wary eye on the future

I’m officially getting old – I picked up my A level results seven years ago. On the day I drove up to the school, walked into reception to get my results, waved goodbye to my erstwhile schoolmates, got in my car, stuck in a Motorhead CD, turned it up full blast and drove off into the sunset – as with so many today, I’d done enough to get into university and I hope the future looks as bright to them as it did to me.

Ignore the detractors like Toby Young and Greg Hands MP, who see something Soviet in improving standards amongst some of our best and brightest young minds. I personally couldn't care less about the anecdotal evidence used to back up such peoples prejudices. The difference between exam marks and anecdotal accounts is that one displays application of rigorous research and analysis and the other does not.

In a summer where a few young adults are being vilified for looting I find comfort in the fact that many thousands more are making the most of the opportunities available to them and this may well be the only week this summer we get to say it.

Nor am I going to get myself into a lather about the alleged sexism of pictures of, predominantly, young blonde girls jumping for joy which appear in today's papers, as Fleet Street Fox blogs in words I’m envious of "Britain is one of the few places in the world where young women can achieve". Yesterdays A level results are a good news story for Britain. It shows we’re still among the very best countries in the world to learn, grow and achieve regardless of sex, sexuality or race, we could do with reporting that more.

Indeed increasing competency in our school leavers is quite a contrast to the competency of the exam boards and UCAS – in the second example this month of a government website failing under the pressure of net traffic, tens of thousands of young people were unable to access the site to apply for university places through clearing. The exam boards made major errors in 12 exam papers, ranging from wrong answers to impossible-to-answer questions, affecting at least 100,000 people.

But the real ungraded award goes to David Willetts for his failure to increase university places in response to record demand ahead of the hike in fees next year, a move that will disadvantage around 50,000 students who in normal circumstances would have done well enough to obtain a place as universities. The real clincher however was his outburst about valuing some A levels more than others which can only be described, in the lexicon of today’s youth, as an epic fail.

I said at the start of this blogpost that I hoped the future looks as bright to today’s school leavers as it did to me seven years ago. My fear is it does not. The world economy is going through the maelstrom of realignment, domestically, youth unemployment is at record highs and prospects for getting a job or university place are at record lows. Let’s not even mention difficulties regards home ownership, credit or young families later down the line, or the tower of debt earlier generations piled up in thier name.

We need too, to spare a thought, and have a plan of action, for those few who didn’t pass, and those thousands of young people who didn’t stay on to do A levels. While initiatives to increase take-up of apprenticeships, skills training and vocational education are welcome, the government needs to do more to invest in young people, get them working and avoid the spectre of a lost generation.

All that said, for those 97.8% of students who did pass today – opportunity knocks. It doesn’t matter what grades you got, it matters what you do with them. Ignore those who say it was harder in their day, it wasn’t, you know it, I know it and deep down so do they. Oh and enjoy university – you don’t get those days back again...

Tags: A levels, David Willetts, Higher education funding, University

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