Leader: Some A-grade carping

August 19, 2005

The exam boards' humane decision to put back the announcement of A-level results to spare candidates the annual deluge of carping about standards has not prevented the ritual exchanges taking place this week. Some employers' organisations are happy to make sweeping generalisations about dumbing down, despite taking only a tiny fraction of A-level students - and often those with relatively poor results. Ministers respond with equally blinkered denials that anything has changed in an exam in which pass rates are unrecognisable from 20 years ago. The mechanistic nature of modern marking schemes and the disastrous Curriculum 2000 reforms, with their retakes and modularisation, will continue to fuel grade inflation until radical change is unavoidable.

But at least two hardy annuals of the exam season have been buried this summer. One concerns leading universities' alleged discrimination against independent school candidates, the other surrounds the impact on state school students of Oxbridge's supposed Brideshead Revisited image.

The Independent Schools Council's report vindicates admissions procedures.

It leaves some headmasters looking foolish, but their schools will be pleased with the conclusions since any whiff of bias was bad for business.

The National Foundation for Educational Research, meanwhile, shows that access initiatives at Oxford and Cambridge are having an effect.

Comprehensive school sixthformers may be wary about applying to the ancient universities, but at least their reluctance is rooted in concerns about academic competition, not social exclusivity.

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