A level futures

It’s worth noting that the heavy UK nationals papers are vying with each other as usual to provide comprehensive post-A level information services on results and university entry. This is good upmarket PR for the papers of course, but the services are impressive and tailor-made for enhancement through interactivity.
The Daily Telegraph, Times and Guardian all offer A level results school by school while the Independent carries the official UCAS clearing site for university entry.

Unsurprisingly, England dominates the results tables by force of numbers but enterprising NI schools are taking part. As well they might for they have something to boast about and promote.

So well done Ballyclare High School (I only single you out because you’re near the top of the alphabet league). Roll on all the others – get your entries in!

It’s great to see an Ulster country school scoring higher than an English public ( i.e. private, “independent”) school with fees of over 10k a year.

I realise league tables may seem invidious as they fail to take account of “value added” sufficiently, i.e. the rate of improvement in less advantaged schools . But lower performance should surely be acknowledged and explained – and improved upon.

Behind the objective info runs a powerful ideological debate of total relevance to Northern Ireland.. The Daily Telegraph runs a story concluding:

Despite a £28 billion-a-year increase in education spending under Labour, analysis of the results shows improvements are driven almost entirely by the success of the independent sector and selective grammar schools.

and adding:

Figures also revealed that pupils in Northern Ireland outperformed those in the rest of the UK, as more than a third achieved A grades. It is the UK’s last remaining selective education system, although politicians have already voted to abolish grammar schools in the province..

(not quite right, that last bit).

Ken Bloomfield and the Association of Quality Education will no doubt feel ratified in their pro-selection stance.

But they should ask themselves some questions:

Are not the state grammar results largely self-fulfilling? If you pre-select the “best” you get the best results. What is your value added performance for the others?

Many grammars have “diluted” entry and teach some non-traditional subjects, ( “creeping comprehensivisation?”). Have their A level streams performed any worse? ( Hard to measure but I bet you’ve tried and have an answer).

This is far from an open-and-shut debate and we shall return to it.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London