A Levels are Going to Change

But we’re not going to have a say in it.

“More than half [of parents believe] young people should be encouraged to study a broader range of subjects than they currently do”

This was the only public opinion research cited in an Independent article last month on the question of whether A Levels are actually giving students the skills we need to get jobs. That seems to be a trend at the moment – ignoring the opinions of those that policies affect most. Sixteen year olds can choose to join the army, but what A Levels they do? Now that’s the big important decision that must be left to our parents.

So basically, if you missed it, the Royal Society released this fact sheet on why they think there should be a review of post-16 learning. If like me you didn’t know this Society existed before now, their purpose from what I can gather is to provide advice to the government. But they also define themselves as a scientific academy, which might explain their offer to ‘reform’ A-Levels by adding a core maths qualification. You know, in order to help those of us who look forward to the day we can leave maths behind to suffer juust that little while longer. And don’t worry, if you do like maths, they haven’t left you out! Along with this ‘core’ qualification, there’s an individual research project that sounds much like the almost universally disliked Welsh Baccalaureate version. In fact, their other suggestion is to replace A Levels entirely with an International or French Baccalaureate. From what I can tell, they’re GCSEs, but with even higher levels of difficulty and stress. Yes, that’s right. We’d have to do A Levels, but on subjects that we’re not even interested in! I’m so glad we’re being included in this debate.

Alright, that being said, the reason for the report itself is actually a pretty fair one – employers say that young people coming out of education simply don’t have the skills necessary for the workforce anymore. There were over 200,000 vacancies in 2017 where people with the right skills just couldn’t be found. The Independent, however, chose to present the report in a very different way. (I must say, I would totally poke these same holes in the articles of other newspapers… but I blocked The Sun from my news feed a long time ago). One of the points made by the Royal Society was that essentially, those in private schools are more likely to come out of their education with three A-Levels compared to those who are eligible for free school meals. This is how the Independent chose to show this;

“Analysis by the Royal Society finds that students are more than twice as likely to be studying four or more A-levels if they are not eligible for free school meals.

They are also more than three times as likely to be studying four or more A-levels if studying at a private or grammar school rather than a comprehensive”

If I wanted to have facts presented to me in a misleading way, I’d unblock The Sun. The focus in the actual fact sheet is clearly on how many pupils get three A-Levels or more, with the statistics on how many do four only being provided to emphasise the inequality. My issue with the presentation of four A-Levels being some sort of a gold standard is that, perhaps the article’s author has forgotten, it is nearly impossible to do if students want to retain some semblance of mental health. Even the man who invented GCSEs has acknowledged that exams like the ones he came up with are putting too much pressure on young people.

Of course, if a system is broken, fix it – but not without asking those of us who it will affect first.

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A response to the Independent articles entitled "A-levels ‘are not equipping students with skills for jobs’" and "I introduced GCSEs and now it’s time to get rid of them"

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