Monday, August 15, 2005

A levels

By now, in Labour's eighth year in power, it is no surprise to see a government minister managing the news rather than their departments. Over the weekend the Sunday Times announced that A levels were to be made harder. This, as the article makes clear is a blatant attempt to preempt the criticism that is likely to descend upon Ruth Kelly when the results are made public later this week. It is extraordinary that so little criticism is made of this tactic of "policy announcement as news management" . If one looks back across the whole sorry saga of A levels over recent years, it becomes clear that there has been an absolute failure of government partially obscured by some masterful spin.

Back in 2002, the government attempted to head off that year's furore over grade inflation by having some papers crudely remarked. The minister involved, David Miliband, of course denied involvement and it goes without saying that the subsequent inquiry by Mike Tomlinson exonerated him entirely. (As an unrelated aside, congratulations are due to Tomlinson for his recent knighthood). By October of that year, Miliband felt confident enough to assure everyone that standards of teaching and learning were rising.

In 2003, Mr Miliband took the route of least risk by defending the integrity of the A Level.
Every A-level subject meets rigorous standards and several international panels have shown this to be true.
Last year, and again just before the announcement of the results, Mr Miliband went out on the attack:
The rising pass rate at A-level shows an education revolution is under way, with more young people getting the chance to get on in life, the school standards minister has said. David Miliband hit back at claims that exams are being down-graded, saying the August debate on education resembled "a pantomime, not a discussion". He said a threefold increase in students getting two passes or more over the past 30 years was a sign of "meritocracy".
Rather than have to face having to think up another story as to why nobody actually fails A Levels, Mr Miliband has moved to pastures new, leaving Ruth Kelly to explain to us why any change is needed to a system which is so "meritocratic" and has such "rigorous standards".