The Conservatives’ new exam shake-up plans are all very well and good for gaining support from a public where the general consensus is that exams just aren’t the same as they were in the good old days (and who mostly haven’t sat an exam in over a decade and never will again) but in practice will only cause more problems. Schools pushing pupils into ‘soft’ A-Levels to inflate their league table position will push pupils towards whatever raises their scores, be it maths or media studies. Worse, the plans may pressure pupils into taking ‘hard’ subjects simply because they believe it’s what’s expected of them, rather than because they enjoy them. Ironically this will see further grade inflation with weaker students taking up these subjects, pushing those stronger candidates who would have taken the subject regardless further into the top grades.
Besides, while PPE at Oxford may suit Mr. Cameron, he fails to realise that not everyone is suited to, nor wants, the kind of classical education he got. The world works because people, rather than being united by desires of further education and a multi-million pound job, are good at and want different things. I note that none of the top unis are offering me a degree in plumbing (nor do I want one). Need I worry? No: my plumber, Tom, who did not go to Oxbridge or study quantum mechanics, but who is a proud possessor of several vocational qualifications (a big Conservative no-no), knows pipes like the back of his hand. Yes, we need trained scientists and doctors, but we also need people in those ‘less academic’ trades. Besides, we’ve got enough unemployed graduates as it is.
One last word on the ‘hard’/’soft’ debate: does academically undemanding translate as easy? Cameron seems to think so – so, if the results of the next general election swing in their favour, I would like to make them getting the legislation through conditional on one thing: that every single Conservative party member get an A in A-Level Dance. And then post the results on YouTube.