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Voice: the union for education professionals comments on todays A level results

Voice: the union for education professionals has commented on the A level results published today (13 August 2015).
Director of Policy and Research Ian Toone said:

“Voice would like to congratulate students and teachers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on this year’s A level results, which reflect high standards of teaching and learning and the commitment of staff and students in the face of regulatory interference designed to put a cap on exam results.

“It should be remembered that these qualifications are taken not only by 18 year olds, but also by many mature students who have returned to study, often juggling attendance at college and studying at home with employment and domestic responsibilities in order to improve themselves and give themselves a more competitive edge in the job market.  Special congratulations are, therefore, due to these adult learners and their tutors, especially in these times of austerity when budgets for adult learning are increasingly being cut to the bone.
“This is the first year that students in Wales and Northern Ireland (and the second year that students in England) have had to take all their A level exams at the end of the course, rather than sit ‘bite-sized’ modules over a two-year period.  This has meant that not only have students had to retain more information, but they have also had to spend more hours sitting exams during the summer term.

“It is, therefore, remarkable that results have remained relatively stable, with only a negligible rise in the overall A*-E pass rate (up 0.1% from 98% last year to 98.1% this year).  However, whilst the proportion of A* grades has remained stable at 8.2%, the proportion of A*-A grades has continued to decline.  Whilst this decline may be regarded as negligible (it is a drop of only 0.1%, from 26% last year to 25.9% last year), this continues a deteriorating trend stretching back to 2011, and reflects a concerted attempt by the exam regulator (Ofqual) to fix the number of top grades.

“Ofqual’s imposition of a ‘comparable outcomes’ approach, whereby results which this year’s A level students achieved seven years’ ago in Key Stage 2 SATs, and in GCSEs two years’ ago, are used to cap their A level results, is designed to stem so-called ‘grade inflation’.  However, given the modern emphasis on targets, league tables and performance criteria (which risks turning schools into exam factories rather than educational institutions) an increasing trend of higher and higher results is surely to be expected (and encouraged)?

“Voice deplores the fact that statistical parameters are, apparently, allowed to dominate the setting of grade boundaries, to the point of over-riding and undermining the expertise of professional senior examiners, whose judgements are based on marking candidates’ actual work.  Even the smallest percentage change in the number of top grades which are awarded can affect the results of thousands of students, so it would be invidious if a political agenda is being allowed to thwart the life chances of a whole generation of young people.

“Another trend which should give cause for concern this year is the slight but significant decline in candidates taking A levels in biology, chemistry and physics.  The recent announcement that many A level providers are finding it difficult to sustain courses in the sciences because of severe budget cuts may lead to speculation that students are being pushed into taking less expensive courses, and such speculation can only be fuelled by the news that A level entries in subjects such as geography, mathematics, history and English literature are up this year.
Regardless of the relative merits of taking one subject rather than another, it cannot be in the best interests of either students or society as a whole for subject choice to be determined more by funding constraints than by students’ abilities, interests and ambitions.

“Nevertheless, today’s results show that students and their teachers are continuing to work hard to fulfil their potential.  All students, whether younger or older, deserve to be proud of their achievements.”


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