The day Britain got that A-grade feeling

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The Independent Online
Students anticipating further academic success, fame, fortune and happiness after scoring five top grades in their A-levels should beware of counting their chickens, according to Oxford University's careers adviser. High achievement at this stage is no guarantee of anything in the future.

But there is worse news for those A-level students who did not do so well. Brunel University's careers office maintains that even if poor A-level performances are overcome and an undergraduate goes on to gain a First Class honours degree, today's blue-chip companies looking for recruits are still interested in A-level results.

A spokesman said: "CAHP is the buzzphrase at the moment - consistent academic high performance. They want to know if you've always been bright.

"One of the really sad things these days is that what you do at A-level now comes back to haunt you. It is one of the big problems facing students - that their early performances seem to matter rather a lot."

Tom Snow, of Oxford University, cautioned: "There is a good correlation between A-level results and later academic performance. But the correlation is not so good between students' academic performance and what they go on to do next."

In what Mr Snow quaintly called the "after-life", certificated success was "not enough". He advised: "You should never think you are going to walk straight into a great job. You've still got hard choices to make, and a lot of work to do."

Mr Snow's warning of no guarantees proved only too accurate for one pupil who gained six top-grade A-levels. The head teacher of King Edward's school in Bath has written to Cambridge University to complain after it rejected him. Andrew Archer's results (mathematics, further mathematics, chemistry, electronics, physics and general studies) prove that he is intelligent, but it seems that they are not an open passport.

If the choice is hard at age 18, is it harder at age nine? Ruth Lawrence achieved a top grade in A-level mathematics at the time when most pupils are struggling with long-division sums. Mr Snow's correlation held. She went on to collect a First Class honours degree at Oxford at the age of 13. Another degree and her doctorate were won before her 16th birthday.

After teaching in Harvard and the University of Michigan, Ms Lawrence went on to research "knot theory" at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques at Bures-sur-Yvette, near Paris.

Her father Harry Lawrence - often branded a figure of either obsession or excessive parental devotion - still accompanies his prodigy daughter everywhere.

After her A-level result came fleeting fame and continuing success. But happiness? It is probably too early to tell.

Ruth's sister, Rebecca, was equally precocious. Coached by her mother, she too had an early top-grade maths certificate at 11. But hot-housing and the world of the fast-track academic were not her choice. She is a pharmacist at Charing Cross Hospital in London.

The poet TS Eliot took a wider and more pragmatic view. Success, he said, was relative: it depended "on what we can make of the mess we have made of things".