The latest A-level results have been released and – surprise, surprise –
success rates have risen. The proportion of papers marked at grade E or above increased to 97.6 percent from 97.5 percent last year. And
27 percent achieved an A or the new A* grade, with 8 percent at A* overall. So, naturally, and rightly, the usual arguments about "dumbing down" are out in force.
The Tories used to love getting stuck into this debate, accusing the New Labour government of eroding exam standards. But it’s noteworthy that, now they’re in power, their rhetoric on the matter
has become considerably less provocative. Speaking this morning about standards, David Willetts
"I really do hate that debate … Young people work incredibly hard … I think we should stop being down on young people and we should celebrate what they achieve."
And the schools minister Nick Gibb followed up with similar sentiments:
"There’s no question that whether you take an A-level today, or whether you took it 28 years ago, it all requires a lot of work … Any student you talk to who’s sat
their A-levels this summer will tell you that over two years they’ve had to work incredibly hard to achieve the grades that they’ve achieved today … To achieve an A* or a B or
an E in the A-level requires a huge amount of hard work."
The question is whether this is just the coalition being sensitive to the feelings of young people on a day of mixed sorrow and jubilation, or whether it represents a weakening of their
resolve to tackle A-level standards. Given the review of A-levels
currently under way, I’d say the former – but it’s worth keeping a studious eye on.