by Sonia Sodha
19/08/09 Head of Capabilities, Sonia Sodha takes issue with the idea that A levels are the be-all and end-all...
As usual, mid-August has brought with it the same round of tired old debates about A level standards. Are they still the ‘gold standard’? Are standards slipping? How far have they been dumbed down?
But this debate misses the point. First, there are more fundamental questions to be asked about how well our school system prepares young people for the 21st century world of higher education and work. There is no question that while most A levels are solid qualifications, they develop some skillsets more than others. Critical thinking and rote learning? A well-taught A level will do the job. But they focus less on skills like team-working and communicating with others.
Second, there are young people whom A levels don’t suit as a qualification. At the moment, these young people are condemned to a second-class vocational education – and the government’s well-meaning but half-hearted attempt to introduce diplomas hasn’t changed this. These young people face poorer life chances than those who take A levels – yesterday’s statistics revealed that one in six young people aged 18 to 24 are now not in education, employment or training.
The verdict is usually ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. The irony of this situation is that many seem to think the system’s ‘broke’ – but there remains a real reluctance amongst politicians to engage with the need for more radical reform of 14-19 learning in this country.