A Song Dynasty painting of candidates participating in the imperial examination
I like hoo-ha and am a great user of malarkey. I’m fond of kerfuffle, but was shocked when I first saw its spelling. These come to mind in the results season when the tone and atmosphere of the national discourse about A levels has traditionally reached febrile heights. There’s the generation of outrage, the deliberate obfuscation and the scuffling in the undergrowth to see whose figures can match which rigid opinion. Today’s story of a 0.6 per cent increase in the number of A* grades and a decrease of 0.1 per cent in the overall pass rate isn’t really news in any recognisable sense. ‘Exam Results Stable Again’ won’t really generate queues round the block to buy papers. No hoo-ha over exams being easier? No things-ain’t-what-they-used-to-be malarkey? No kerfuffle over too few places for too many students? I may be tempting fate in this early afternoon of results day, but the news seems pretty quiet out there.
Wouldn’t post-qualification university application take some more uncertainty out of the system? Universities argue that it would disadvantage academically able applicants from poorer backgrounds, but would it have to? We’d have to change the shape of our year, both in school and university, but isn’t that overdue? Wouldn’t it be more transparent? Isn’t that a good in public life?
How well are we served by having competing commercial examination boards? Why are our young people’s futures left up to an (admittedly regulated) market?
Is the government going to make a quiet u-turn on the Goveite AS fiasco? When schools and universities agree that AS grades aid transparency in university admission and career planning does it really need to be a political issue? When the Secretary of State for Education Secretary says the government is "lifting the cap on aspiration" what on earth does that mean? Does the quiet news today suggest that education is becoming less of a political football?
I’m grateful for an A level results day that hasn’t seen our hard work disparaged by defenders of a system designed to generate an elite rather than educate the nation. I may raise a glass (tonight) to the teachers and parents who have worked, worried and loved our students through to adulthood. I’ll certainly raise one to year 13 themselves who, despite the trials and indignities of adolescence, the incessant fiddling about with education throughout their entire school careers and the ambivalent attitude this society has towards its young, have come through.
So here’s to the elated and the tearful, to your futures close to home or in a new city, to the difference you’ll make and the citizens you’ll be. Let’s hope that Tallis really has given you an education to understand the world and change it for the better. Good luck, don’t forget us, and thank you for sharing your lives with us.