'For each set of students A levels are A once-in-a-lifetime thing'

August 19, 2005

Ellie Johnson Searle, director of the Joint Council for Qualifications, is braced for annual criticism of A levels

As the media began its annual A-level feeding frenzy and speculation, only one person knew the truth about whether pass rates were up or down on last year - Ellie Johnson Searle.

Dr Johnson Searle is director of the Joint Council for Qualifications and she compiles the results. "I have the honour," she says, her voice loaded with irony, "of delivering the national results every year."

She has heard many times criticism of pass rates and that A levels are too easy. And she admits this poses challenges for the JCQ, which co-ordinates and regulates the seven largest examination boards.

But while she agrees that it is interesting to look at the patterns of data, this is not at the forefront of her mind. "Everyone remembers getting their A-level results," she says. "People forget that for each set of students it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing. These results belong to them."

She feels so strongly about the issue that, for the first time, data on A-level entries and grades is embargoed until 8.15am on Thursday morning, after the results are published.

Dr Johnson Searle joined the JCQ in 2004, when it was created. Before that she spent 12 years as a teacher and national hockey umpire. She became involved in course design and embarked on a PhD at Leicester University on implementation of the general national vocational qualification.

Much of Dr Johnson Searle's free time is spent preparing to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. A doddle compared with dealing with examination results, some may think.

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