20 Aug 2009
Good to see that most of the media coverage of today's results has been diverted to the university admissions squeeze story rather than turning into another rant about 'easy exams'.
However I still heard (mostly on phone-ins) quite a bit of nonsense based mainly on the misapprehension that the great majority of students take A-levels, when in fact they do not. A great deal of sifting takes place before students enter for the full A-level.
The reality is that only about half of each age cohort takes A- levels. Schools and colleges will not encourage students who cannot cope with A- levels to even start courses. There are plenty of other useful qualifications for them to pursue.
Moreover, students who do poorly at the half-way stage (the AS-level) will - very sensibly - not continue to the full A-level. So it should not be too surprising that most of those who enter for A-level get good grades. It is sensible and logical. It is how the system is designed to work.
So when 97.5% of the exams are passed that is 97.5% of A-level entries not 97.5% of all students of that age group.
A-levels may not always provide enough differentiation between the very brightest students but they remain beyond the reach of about half of all young people.