Our research into A-level results has thrown up some intriguing insights into the performance of academies.
It shows, for instance, those set up under Labour – largely serving disadvantaged areas and either replacing failing schools or starting from scratch with a private sponsor – doing less well in recent years and, in particular, slipping back further in terms of performance than the rest in 2012. This was the first year of the fruits of Education Secretary Michael Gove’s determined attempts to conquer grade inflation.
It suggests two things: first, that the euphoria over their launch has ebbed away and now they are fighting with the historic problems which affected their predecessor schools (such as inspiring performance in an area beset with disadvantages); secondly, that there has been great concentration on encouraging disadvantaged students to opt for the UK’s top universities and the elite Russell Group has obligingly told schools which subjects are most likely to secure their pupils access to them.
There is nothing wrong with any of that, but it may have given the impression there is only one route to a successful life post-education, and that is through a traditional academic route leading to a good degree. However, often the same emphasis has not been placed on securing a top-class vocational qualification.
The tide may be beginning to turn, as perhaps through economic necessity more students with good A-level grades are looking to apprenticeships and earn-while-you-learn opportunities. We should encourage that change, possibly by taking up CBI director-general John Cridland’s suggestion that in order to give equal status to vocational qualifications they should be called A-levels, too.
This is not a plea for a divide between “posh people” pursuing an academic career to leave those less fortunate stuck in a vocational rut. Many young people from better-off homes would benefit from world-class vocational education too.