Are Today's College Students Still Making the Grade at A-Level?; the Annual Complaint Has Surfaced Once More with the Number of Students Achieving A Grades Increasing. Does This Mean A-Levels Are No Longer the Badge of Excellence They Once Were? Jackie Brown Reports

Article excerpt

Getting your A-level results is traditionally a nail-biting time for school leavers - after all, they are likely to dictate your future.

However, the arrival of this year's exam results is likely to bring more cheer than in the past.

The number of A grades that have been awarded has risen once again - only a slight rise of 0.3 per cent compared to last year but it continues an unbroken run of improvement since 1990.

The proportion of entries now achieving an A grade now stands at 17.8 per cent compared to 11.6 per cent a decade ago.

News of the latest increase has reopened debate that results are getting better because A-levels are getting easier and not because students are working harder.

The Government has already stepped in to deny claims made by some business leaders and educational traditionalists that the exams are being 'dumbed down'.

But there has also been concern over the separate issue that more A-level students are increasingly choosing 'trendy' subjects such as media studies, and psychology over traditional options.

Figures show an increase of 7.4 per cent in the number of candidates sitting exams in media, film and TV studies compared to last year and a decrease of 13.5 per cent in number of students taking French and a 12 per cent drop in geography candidates.

The development has been singled out as an example of pupils choosing to sit exams because they look on them as an easier option.

With so much criticism about A-levels, are the exams still considered to be the badge of excellence that they once were?

Ruth Lea, of the Institute of Directors, believes a clutch of good exam results is not as impressive as it once was, saying there has been a noticeable drop in literacy and numeracy standards of A-level students applying for jobs.

'We do surveys of our members and time and time again they tell us that they interview people who look fantastic on paper - they turn up with qualifications which would have impressed 20 years ago - but they don't actually know anything,' she says.

'We don't believe that standards are improving as they appear to be by looking at the grades - we don't believe that standards are being maintained. More and more people are getting better and better results but standards are not being maintained.'

Nick Seaton is chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, a parents' pressure group which also believes that A-levels are getting easier. University lecturers, he claims, are increasingly complaining that undergraduates are not up to scratch. …