Let’s celebrate A Level achievement!

Today brings news of many fantastic A Level grades, and I congratulate all the Leavers of 2011 from St Mary’s Calne. Nearly 40% of all their grades were A*s, half of them achieved an amazing full marks in one of their papers, and 1 in 5 of them is off to Oxbridge. An ENORMOUS well done to them all!

In some circles, of course, the same story as ever is doing the rounds, namely that the rise in A and A* grades must mean that exams are getting easier, that marking is less secure, and that – by extension – young people today have a much easier ride than their counterparts a decade or more ago. I do not dispute that there were some serious errors on the part of the exam boards in some of the papers this year, but this should not detract from the accomplishments of the candidates. And of course exams are different today, but this does not necessarily make them easier. I would defy anyone who took A Level French 30 years ago, for example, to achieve highly on the equivalent exam today, which at its highest levels requires near native fluency.

I can assure you that my girls most certainly deserve their grades. They have been extremely well taught, by amazing teachers; they have developed a mature focus on success; and they have fully understood that A Levels are not an end in themselves, but a means to enter Higher Education and prepare for a future career. They have worked hard, with dedication and commitment, and have also devoted considerable time to broadening their experience of life, through sports, Gold Duke of Edinburgh, music, drama, and leadership.

Moreover, these young women have learned to negotiate the pressures of the world adeptly; the pressures on young women to appear and act in certain ways are at times overwhelming, and the greatest advance any young woman can make in this respect is to recognise the pressure for what it is and decide to be true to herself. They are primed and ready to go – to universities, to gap years and then beyond, on to careers and fulfilling lives. They have graduated not just from school but from their teenage years, and they have earned a distinction.

We should not undermine their achievement, nor the achievement of any of our other young people who are receiving their results today. Now is not the time to engage in debate about curriculum failures; it is a time to reward personal endeavour.

I congratulate them all.

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