Annual debate on A levels


Firstly, congratulations to everyone in Bristol West who’s got the A level results they wanted today.  I have my own vivid memories of, er, 25 years ago when I got my own results (ABB) which meant that I’d got my place at Bristol University to study history.  And I’ve been in Bristol ever since that autumn, so your life is about to take an exciting new turn.

It was nice to be lying in bed listening to the Today programme coverage this year.  For the last few years I’d been in Westminster fronting the story for the Lib Dems, either as Schools or Universities shadow minister.  The day would start with being driven to GMTV at about 5.30am for their news hour and often doing Radio 5 Live at midnight and ending up completely knackered.  Every year for a decade or so young people have had to put up with journalists (and some MPs)  wingeing about how A levels are too easy these days or that some subjects are “soft” options.

Back in 2007 I proposed that a commission should be set up to look at what is expected of a 21st century A level.  The commission should be made up of university admissions tutors (the prime users of A levels these days) as well as employers.  We could then at least settle the question of standards.   But the marking schemes used by examiners and the grade boundaries are more contentious.  Is it better to have grade norms (the top 5% get an A) or should everyone who gets above a certain mark be awarded that grade?  Norms would be better I think – but we know that young people don’t get the same levels of exam preparation across the range of schools in England.  So I’ve always been in favour of a range of fair access policies for university admissions….but that’s a huge subject best left for a later blog posting!


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