Politics dominates A-level results

By Ian Dunt

Students across the country are nervously picking up A-level results today, as various political debates are sparked by the qualification.

Along with the traditional anger over the supposed ‘dumbing down’ of the tests, arguments are breaking out over the lack of extra university places promised by ministers, concerns over a postal workers’ strike, and the decline of academic subjects.

Those suspicious that exams are getting easier will have their views reinforced by today’s figures, which show 26.7 per cent of all A-level grades were an A – up 0.8 per cent on last year.

But the largest increase is in independent schools, which saw a 2.1 per cent rise in grade A.

Dr Mike Cresswell, of the AQA exam board, said: “Independent schools have been continuing to show a higher increase in results since 2002 when the new A-levels were brought in.

“If you took out that affect, you would get a lesser increase.”

It has also been argued that many candidates who would have failed A-levels now take AS and drop them after the first year, contributing to the higher percentage pass rates.

For those who have met with disappointment the number of university places remains a problem. There are 60,000 more applicants than last year, meaning four out of five going through clearing will struggle to get on to a course.

The prime minister promised extra university places for the next academic year in front of the Commons liaison committee last month, but no further details have been forthcoming.

Liberal Democrat higher education spokesman Stephen Williams said the mad flurry of young people trying to secure a place at clearing today will be a stark reminder of the government’s failure to produce sufficient extra places.

“This will be the toughest year ever for places and it looks like huge numbers of very able young people will be joining the record numbers already unemployed,” he said.

“The irony is that while a record number of students are likely to get the top grades, more young people than ever are going to be disappointed as they fail to get a place at university.”

“Ministers have made this situation far worse by failing to fund the number of extra places they originally promised,” he continued.

“This will also make a mockery of the government’s plan for ‘trading up’, as students who do better than expected find there are no places for them at better universities.”

Meanwhile, students have been assured by the Royal Mail it has instigated “robust contingency plans” to ensure the their A-level results are delivered to school on time despite the postal workers’ strike.

The Joint Council for Qualifications added that schools would have access to students’ results through the exam boards’ security-enabled internet sites.

The results follow continued consternation about the number of pupils sitting traditional academic exams this year.

Data obtained by the Conservatives through parliamentary questions revealed that one in seven secondary schools in England had failed to enter pupils for geography or physics exams last year.