I am getting sick and tired of hearing the media rubbishing students. Every results day we get a swathe of media reports questioning whether exams are getting easier. Whether it’s about the number of first class degrees or A*s at GCSE or A-level, the media is intent on undermining the hard work of students.
It takes me back to the day I waited to hear whether I had been awarded my degree. N0 sooner had I received my final marks than the papers were full of critical analysis. Degrees are too easy they said, too many are getting firsts they added, they wouldn’t have achieved that in the good old days Of course I wouldn’t know if I could have got a good degree twenty years ago because I didn’t have an opportunity to find out. University, the word, was never mentioned. University, it was assumed, was for the rich kids, not kids like me from ordinary working class families. We didn’t aspire for university, we didn’t aspire for professional jobs, we really didn’t aspire for much at all (not in my 1980′s comp anyhow). As it was, I learnt the hard way. After a succession of boring jobs I returned to further education and eventually got my degree only to be knocked back by media reports that were intent on cross examining our results to such an extent that I started to question the value of my degree. What should have been an amazing day, an accumulation of years of hard work, tight deadlines and perseverance soon became filled with doubt. For a few weeks I was even too shy of mentioning my degree for fear of being mocked but eventually I learnt to recognise and enjoy my achievements.
A few years on and my eldest daughter has just completed her AS levels. It has been a tough year almost from the word ‘go’. She and her friends have had to work hard to keep up with the demands of 3 or 4 or even 5 subjects and the almost constant exam pressure being placed on them. But it seems that the efforts of our students are still not being recognised.
A few days ago the A level results came out (as did the AS levels) and our televisions and radio stations were filled with jubilant teenagers celebrating top grades. Every year it is the same, teenagers opening up their results in the presence of a film crew ready to share their joy with nation. And yet, we also get the usual tirade of negativity. A levels are getting easier they say, A levels are not like they were, they don’t stretch the best, blah, blah, blah. I’ve heard it all over the years but what I don’t hear is credit being given to the students, their schools and their parents and teachers who support them.
The papers make it out that A levels are easy but have you seen an A level paper, have you seen the questions they have to answer? I can assure you that they are not as easy as the media make out. In fact, so demanding is the course that a number of my daughter’s friends are unable to continue with their A levels as they have not achieved high enough grades at AS level. Bright students who perhaps did not adjust quickly enough to the demands of their courses. As the tutors kept telling us at enrollment, “they have to hit the floor running if they want any chance of doing well.”
The point is that examination success may not simply be due to ‘easier exams’ but the hard work of a generation of students who may be more motivated to ‘get on’. My generation of working class kids didn’t have the opportunities or the support to aspire for great things so we didn’t. Certainly in my school, very few of us even made it to sixth form. In contrast, most of my daughter’s year group have had many more opportunities to enter further education and many of them are taking those chances up and working hard at it too. So rather than dismissing their efforts and blaming the A level system, isn’t it time we acknowledged our hard-working students? It’s difficult enough being a young person at the moment than to also be publicly rubbished.