ANOTHER VIEW : All credit to A-level achievers

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The Independent Online
Today's publication of A-level results, which show how well our young people have achieved in their studies at school and college, will be accompanied by a cacophony of criticism that standards are falling. The A-level performance of school-leavers has improved steadily year by year and yet the achievements by the candidates, not to mention their families and their teachers, are constantly derided by people who seem unable to accept that it is possible for standards to improve.

There is no question that standards must be rigorously maintained, but there still seems to be an almost wilful disregard by the critics of the quality controls imposed on and exercised by the examining boards. Another example of the British attitude which seems incapable of living with success.

A similar improvement in performance has recently been noticed in Singapore, a country that is very conscious of status and league tables.

Thorough government-led research into this phenomenon found that there were better teaching aids available, families were increasingly able to supply additional help in, perhaps, the form of books or computer packages, students were using better examination techniques and were increasingly motivated to do well at A-level because of the need to obtain a place at university or college.

So it is in the United Kingdom. One of the Government's successes has been the introduction of the GCSE, with its new and adventurous syllabuses as well as methods of assessment.

There is no doubt that students have been much more interested in their work and have enjoyed it more. Hence we see an increased staying-on rate to do A-levels. The introduction of the national curriculum will doubtless go a long way to underpinning those standards and that enjoyment. We can therefore look forward to a continuing improvement in A-level performance and then achievement in higher education with a consequentimprovement in the skills base of our workforce.

Let nobody decry the increased participation in higher education by coming out with facile arguments that there are insufficient jobs for graduates who must be inferior to their elders and betters who graduated 20 years ago when the standards were allegedly higher. This misses the point. We are simply trying to educate our potential workforce better and to a more advanced level so that, be it in the professions or in industry, our skills base improves year by year.

So let us rejoice at the pleasure and privilege of having a bright, hard- working and successful younger generation on whose efforts we shall depend to maintain and improve the quality of our life.

Well done!

The writer is chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

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