Get down to business

Arguing whether the A Level has lost its value misses the point. The real
issue is how to prepare our young people for work in today’s tough environment
and give employers confidence in their ‘state of readiness’.

The global economy and use of technology throughout daily life means
companies need staff who can understand, cope and flourish in this challenging
world. Consequently, young people need to leave school with a broader package of
skills that reflects academic qualifications, business knowledge and strong
inter-personal skills.

Therefore, advocating a radical overhaul of the A Level system seems drastic
and a touch foolhardy, as it would discard invaluable experience. Particularly
today with more young people striving to achieve higher A Level qualifications,
we should not be discouraging such zeal.

Instead a gradual evolution would seem more appropriate, building on the A
Level foundations. Certainly there is some validity to calls for greater
distinction between the top performers, but this can be achieved by adaptation
not re-invention.

The challenge is inspiring young people about complex subjects, getting them
to see their importance and relevance to our surroundings.

Yes, business needs to be confident that the education system is stretching
students properly, but business has a vital role to play too, particularly with
maths and science.

We can explain the benefits of studying these subjects in terms of career
fulfilment and future employability. Business should be supplementing the exam
system with programmes to ensure our young people hit the ground running.

Employers should be helping them to grow in their understanding of what
business is about – only then can they make a successful transition from
education to work.

Remember the goal should be preparing a 21st century workforce, which can
compete globally, not scoring political points at the expense of young people.

Norman Green, vice-president finance, Oracle UK, Ireland & South

Turn back the clock

The A Level qualification has assumed a variety of roles over the years, but
its key purpose is to enable universities to select undergraduates.

Now that over a fifth of students are awarded an ‘A’ grade, some critics
argue that A Levels are no longer useful to universities, because the
qualification fails to differentiate sufficiently between levels of ability.

Employers still value A Levels. They ensure that students master particular
subject areas in reasonable depth, acquire valuable generic skills, such as the
ability to analyse and reason, and are prepared for higher education. This last
point is particularly important to directors: the average IoD member needs 45%
of their staff to have a degree.

A Levels are not perfect, but the alternative of replacing it with an English
Baccalaureate would not deliver the improvements our education system so
desperately needs. It would be disruptive, costly and take 10 years to achieve.

Above all, the diploma could not guarantee higher standards or improvements
in literacy and numeracy skills – the overwhelming concern of employers.

We need to make changes to ensure that the A Level qualification is fit for
purpose. This could involve a policy of restoration, not revolution. A return to
the traditional A Level that existed before the introduction of the curriculum
2000 reforms would entail the abolition of AS Levels, thereby lightening the
burden of examinations.

It would also mean an end to the existing modular A Levels and a return to
final examinations at the end of two years of study.

This would probably result in a smaller proportion of students obtaining an
‘A’ grade, thereby making it easier for universities to identify the best

Additionally, individual schools could be allowed to offer their students the
International Baccalaureate – if there was sufficient demand and adequate

Ultimately, we need to retain the essence of the existing A Level structure,
avoid unnecessary changes and make improvements where necessary.

Richard Wilson, head of business policy, IoD

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