The week

21st August 2009 at 01:00

Panic was expected over clearing after several "top" universities said they were full before pupils even opened their A-level results envelopes yesterday. But the students who nab last-minute places at former polytechnics may be the lucky ones. The Sunday Times reported that two such universities, Robert Gordon in Aberdeen and Edinburgh Napier, had outperformed Oxbridge for the proportion of their graduates finding work.

We'll skip the annual cliches about A-level results day (pics of photogenic sixth-formers etc) as pointing them out has, itself, become a cliche. But we won't skip A-levels altogether - because this week the Tories announced their grand plan to give extra points for "hard" subjects such as maths and fewer for "soft" ones such as media studies. How on earth this would work - and why it wouldn't be better to make all A-levels equally rigorous - is still unclear. Michael Gove, shadow schools secretary, told The Sunday Telegraph the party was also considering making league tables more academic by taking out pupils' results from vocational courses and publishing those separately. Parity of esteem? RIP.

The Conservatives continued their assault on "soft" A-levels by publishing figures they claimed showed core academic subjects such as history and maths had "disappeared" from many state schools. Nick Gibb, shadow schools minister, said it was vital this process was reversed as "the disappearance of core academic subjects in many state schools is extremely worrying". It would be worrying if it wasn't balderdash. Between 1997 and 2008, the number of pupils taking maths A-level rose in comprehensives and fell in independent schools. As for history, the number taking it at comprehensives has soared from 15,740 to 20,042. So, the opposite of "disappearing", then.

But it is understandable people get worried about dumbing down if they see headlines such as "Boy, 15, gets exam pass - just for using the bus". Bobby McHale was surprised to receive an AQA certificate after attending a three-week holiday scheme for teenagers run by Bury Youth Services in Greater Manchester. The certificate - not, it must be stressed, a full exam pass - said the teenager had completed Using Public Transport (Unit 1) by demonstrating such skills as getting on to a bus "in a calm and safe manner". His father Andy quipped: "We think he may go far - so long as he gets the 135."

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