A-level results: Young are just guinea pigs for pointless political whims

PUBLISHED: 14:40 17 August 2017 | UPDATED: 14:40 17 August 2017

A-level results are out today. Picture: PA

A-level results are out today. Picture: PA

At 6am this morning, we were due to receive our family’s last set of public exam results.

Son the Younger’s A-level results will decide his next chapter; what he will study – Spanish and Russian if it all goes to plan – and where he will live for the next four years.

To get here, his 14 years of schooling have been far from the journey of discovery and wonder I had hoped the new Millennium would offer him as a newborn in the summer of 1999.

Since starting school aged just four and two months – far too young, especially for a boy, for any parent with summer born school starters – he has been tested, assessed, re-tested, coached to achieve grades since before his stablisers came off his bicycle rather than nurturing a love of learning.

And, especially this summer, he has been a guinea pig of the Government’s pointless education reforms for reform’s sake, shaped on political whims.

He and his classmates leave the education system victims of endless political meddling, point making and changes that didn’t need changing.

And when these ambitious and driven young people worked hard enough to win top grades, their achievements were devalued by the Government declaring exams had been made too easier so they were making them tougher.

Today, we will see the results of this latest make-it-tougher reform, a hasty ill-thought out change for change’s sake that has left young people and schools confused, ill-prepared and bewildered about what it’s all about.

I took O-levels and A-levels in the early 80s.

Grumpy old people say today’s young people have it easy in comparison.

Having watched my two sons take a combined total of 27 GCSEs between them, eight AS-levels (some of which, under the new reforms, no longer count), six A-levels and numerous sets of SATS and other tests, my exam summers of 1980 and 1982 were a breeze.

I’ve witnessed how much harder my children worked compared to my generation, how much more focused, resilient and prepared they were, and how the dedication and passion of their teachers far outweighed those of my day.

There is no comparison.

It’s no surprise that, in a week when the EDP has focused on mental health, the most tested and messed about generation in the education system are also the most messed up – anxious, stressed, under-confident and insecure, they’ve been brought up being judged by the first five letters of the alphabet, then told they’ve had it too easy.

Brighter, more sassy, well informed and sharper than any generation, they’re constantly told they’re not good enough.

Then their reward for notching up a clutch of decent A-level grades?

Saddling themselves with loans of up to £60,000 to pay more than £9,000 a year to, in many cases, get short-changed by lazy and greedy universities run by academics earning up to almost £500,000.

The moment they are handed their degree certificate by the robed over-paid Vice-Chancellor, interest starts to be slapped on to their £50,000-£60,000 debt.

It’s a system that stinks.

The only losers are the young people it’s supposed to be designed to help.

And, in the process, it’s causing even wider social chasms.

Only one in five young people from the most disadvantaged areas go to university, compared to half of pupils from the wealthiest backgrounds.

This is not equality of opportunity and education supporting social mobility.

This is serious regression.

Education charity Teach First found young people from affluent areas were 18 times more likely to go to university than those from deprived postcodes.

How is that progress?

And it’s the poorest that end up with the most debt.

The scrapping of maintenance grants means the lower the income the more needs to be borrowed, while the privileged often don’t even get a sniff of a student loan dancing through university funded by the bank of mum and dad.

So no wonder they are put off higher education and university applications are down by 25,190 this year.

And also no wonder young people are forensic in their choice of university for the best teaching with the best employment prospects.

It is heart-breaking to hear, in 2017, a clever talented teenager say university isn’t for them because of its price tag.

The system that takes them to university is a mess and universities, with their leaders paying themselves inflated salaries and ramping up their tuition fees for ropey teaching and worthless degrees, feel more likedodgy rackets than seats of learning.

Today’s A-level results should be passports to opportunity for everyone.

Sadly, the rising price tag of that opportunity, is taking us back to university only for those who can afford it.

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