Editorial - A-level students are being shafted from all sides. Perhaps it's character-building ..

19th August 2011 at 01:00

Was it always so difficult to be an A-level student? Did we oldies have our results questioned and our futures discounted before we'd had them?

Were our successes torpedoed and our failures amplified by headlines wailing about another rise in the pass rate? If straight-A students are patronised and condescended to, how are those whose grades are less good supposed to feel?

A small number of pupils even find themselves visually prostituted. A few desperate schools think it's acceptable to tout pictures of winsome female students for A-level results day. Strangely, they never bombard news desks with pictures of joyously leaping boys or homely girls. The press, including at times The TES, does not need much encouragement to print pictures of attractive female pupils. So what headlines are those schools expecting? Look at the A*s on her? How proud a bright pupil must feel to have her academic achievement belittled and pimped out as a photo op by the school that taught her.

If A-level students are robust enough to shrug off carping headlines and dodgy schools, the majority will enter higher education. And joy there is in short supply. There are a lot of myths surrounding A-levels and universities (pages 18-19). But it is undeniable that the mood music is gloomy. What does this generation of school-leavers face? Student debts way in excess of anything paid by their predecessors and one of the best university systems in the world in the process of being buggered by a politically compromised Government. Their timing could have been better.

Should pupils get the A-level grades they want, they may find that the subject choices they made are not the ones best tailored to the university course or career they want to pursue. This could be because they received duff or no advice, or because their school was more concerned about league tables than higher education progression, or because universities have been notoriously opaque about the kinds of subjects they prefer. The information gap between schools and universities has never been wider, and today's sixth-formers are marooned in the middle.

To bridge it, the Government is proposing to rate schools by the proportion of pupils they send to universities (page 1). On one level that's not a bad idea - if schools are measured for it they will most likely attend to it. But if progression rates within schools are not taken into account, it will reinforce advantage rather than diminish it. And, as a final insult, the Government is planning to tell pupils which of their university choices is more worthwhile than others - as if it's in a position to judge.

So, congratulations class of 2011! And don't despair. If you can survive all the shit that's been thrown at you recently, you'll probably survive anything.

gerard.kelly@tsleducation.com.

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