Saturday, 20 August 2011

When only the best will do.....

Unsurprisingly, this year's A-Level results have created an intense pressure for university places, before the fees go up next year. Although the proportion of pupils getting As or A*s, at 27%, is only slightly up from last year, as far as getting a place on the course of your choice is concerned I think you could be forgiven for thinking that anything less isn't worth the paper it's written on. At any rate, it's a far cry from the 1960s, when I took mine, and the top 27% would've included both As and Bs and the top 2% of Cs as well. And an overall pass rate of about 98%, I think has to raise questions about the validity of an exam which hardly anyone now fails.

Not that I'm knocking the achievements of this year's A level students. Thinking back, I remember two years of solid hard slog to get there, wondering at times whether it was all going to be worth it. Both French and German - the two subjects which gained me my As - have undergone a decline in popularity over the last decade, despite the fact that the students of today no longer have to sit through the interminable study of set texts which plagued me when I did mine.

As far as the question of "soft" options go, this is another question which yet again rears its ugly head. The then-new A level General Studies wasn't counted as worth anything by Universities, and so I didn't bother to take it, opting instead for a couple of now-defunct S-Levels. If subjects such as Media Studies are to be denigrated as not "proper" A-levels, then to my mind that is the fault of the examining boards for not devising a syllabus which is exacting enough, and the fault of the Universities for giving them a parity in the points allocation. Whatever happened to the proviso that you had to have a track record of excellence in the subject you were applying to study?

There again, the tendency of Universities to broaden the scope of degree offerings has contributed a lot to the 'Micky Mouse Degree' accusations. In 1980 I went to Polytechnic part-time for three years and got a BA in Librarianship. As a primarily 'vocational' qualification (which my employer declined to pay for, incidentally) it hardly rates alongside an Oxbridge Honours in Classics. But although it didn't bring me fame and fortune (or even an increase in salary) I'm kinda proud of my achievement. And in an educational system which seems these days to be increasingly focused on mediocrity, I guess that's reason enough.

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