In the last twenty years the number of university places has increased ten-fold. The argument was to produce a workforce that was more highly skilled and sold to us that if we wanted our children to have better jobs, therefore, they should go to university. Unfortunately the number of graduate jobs has not increased by the same amount. The ultimate effect of this is that employers who once asked for a reasonable spread of O’ Levels are not asking for degrees. Many graduates, therefore, have jobs that are not the traditional graduate jobs, but have raised very large debts to pay for a graduate job that does not exist for them. Many employers often only take graduates from the recognisably elite universities for the real graduate jobs that exist.
Since there are many more young people with the necessary A’ Levels to enter university, where three A* are not uncommon, one has to ask about the standards that apply in assessing the modern A’ Levels. The education profession maintains that they are doing a better job than their predecessors, but it is hard to escape another conclusion, namely, that they are easier. The latter view is held by many of us, even some of us in the education profession, but who are afraid to be whistle blowers for fear of probable disciplinary retribution. The same can be said for GCSEs
The problem for parents is whether it is advantageous to send their children to university or not. The only option if we do want our children to attend university is to ensure entrance to an elite university. Since A* is now quite accessible, the only way for a student to show their academic worth is to take more than the standard three or four A’ levels, have at least one of the ‘harder’ A’ Levels in the spread and engage in an EPQ.
So far, only two universities have admitted preferring applicants with ‘harder’ A’ Levels, principally citing maths, physics and chemistry, and not just for undergraduate places that specifically need these A’ Levels, but a recent study showed that many universities have this preference. The ‘harder’ A’ Levels are maths, physics, chemistry and languages. Having said that, I recently did a selection of A’ Level German and French papers and armed only with my O’ Level French with an unremarkable grade, found them easy, and marked them according to the mark schemes and did well. I, therefore doubt the degree of difficulty of A’ Level languages.
In a global, market economy where we source the best from the whole world, we find that seventy percent of new technology jobs have gone to those educated in systems other than the British. In conclusion, therefore, we have little choice but to ensure our young people get into a very good university with a relatively large number of the ‘harder’ A’ Levels. The process should start early in our children’s education.