Alan Ryan's argument about GCSEs is an odd one for an educationist to advance, ignoring as it does the cumulative and maturing effect many students experience as they move from GCSE towards A level and beyond; presumably a major aim and major benefit of secondary education.
At Leeds University, we do not offer students places merely on the basis of their GCSE results; neither do we "give" degrees to any of our students, and I would be surprised if Oxford University does either.
I managed only seven O levels, and my grade in mathematics was most certainly not an A, but things got better thereafter and I've somehow or other ended up with three degrees, two from Cambridge University. Perhaps it was the invigorating and healthy balancing effect of growing up near some of Cornwall's loveliest surf beaches.
Director of elective modules
Language Centre, Leeds University