It’s too soon to jump to conclusions on A-levels

Was yesterday a bit of a mixed day for Michael Gove? On the one hand, he saw the fruits of his labours with the publication of A-level pass rates; on the other he didn’t learn of the results while sat in his now former office in the Department for Education, having been moved in the Cabinet reshuffle due to his propensity to invoke the ire of teachers and parents alike.

Yesterday’s exam results showed a decline in the pass rate for the first time in 30 years. While rather perverse to consider a declining pass rate as good news, the suggestion has, mercifully, been than the exam process has been more rigorous and challenging – rather than unfairly questioning students’ aptitude and ability. This was one of Mr Gove’s goals: to introduce a more rigorous system.

One of his other goals was to promote core subjects, and the evidence would suggest that, again, this objective was achieved. There are more students applying to study sciences, and there was a remarkable 11 per cent increase in the number of computing examinations. And, while English is also a core subject, more students studied maths for the first time.

For a system that has long been challenged by experts and business leaders as not being rigorous enough and for not turning out pupils with many of the skills needed for a professional environment, yesterday’s results are good news. But it would be premature to give Mr Gove a gold star and send him to the front of the class just yet.

The decline in pass rate of A* to E was almost as small as it’s possible to calculate, 0.1 per cent. Business leaders, including the CBI, while welcoming the increase in pupils studying science and maths, have also warned that there has been a decline in the number of pupils studying foreign languages that are highly valued in international markets. And, despite a reduction in the pass rate, a record number of young people will still take up university places this year, with vocational training still not as highly sought after by students. This is despite firms such as PwC and KPMG increasingly trying to tempt school leavers into joining their training schemes and eschewing university.

So at the moment, if you choose to give Mr Gove an ‘A’, it will only be for effort. It’ll take more than the one set of results to determine whether Mr Gove and the government have been successful in addressing flaws in the examination system and better preparing young people for the rigours of either higher education or the workplace.