12 August 2008

"The Face of Britain's Falling Standards"- A Pre-Emptive Strike About A-Levels

So, it's that most wonderful time of year again. A-Level results!

You can tell it's this time, because pictures like the one to the left will appear in newspapers or online up and down the country in relation to stories about how much easier A-Level results are compared to when the authors of the pieces were young.

Before we get to that, I'll clarify what I mean by pictures "like these." Think about it- every year, pieces on students receiving their A-Level results are accompanied by photos of usually attractive 18 year old girls grinning and holding envelopes that contain their grades. While I accept the point that no one wants to see lads who look like Austin Powers underneath the mask of pubescent spots that blights their visage, it's remarkable how the media can find titillation even in pieces on education. Being an 18 year old male of the heterosexual persuasion myself, I can find no complaints with such pictures and maybe I'm taking this a little too far, but female readers out there, imagine the sweaty palmed Sun reader who gets a copy of the paper on the day that the reports are published. He's finished with Page 3, where Candy, 18, from Middlesex gets her tits out as a tiny bubble super-imposed to her right proclaims her disapproval of Gordon Brown's foreign policy, even though she probably can't spell "Zimbabwe." What does he find on the next page but a picture of you and your friends, looking all excitable, hugging each other... maybe some girls even caress each other, he thinks.

You see where I'm going with this, so I won't go any further down the "eww, eww, eww" route. I'm no prude, but you will never ever see a photo of a male student who has achieved A grades in all of the sciences and is off to Oxford on a scholarship in the papers, without an accompanying report saying how the exams are getting dumbed down and thus students are getting by with less valuable qualifications. Of course it's a generation thing- someone once said every generation wants to be the last, and thus has a tendency to deride its successor, and the current generation of newsreaders, reporters and journalists all say around this time of year that students have it easy. With youth being characterised so much these days by either yobs or emos, it's a wonder that relations between the young and the old haven't collapsed entirely. By 2030, the first Prime Minister who is from "our" generation will be saying "What's that, Dad? Our generation doesn't know nearly as much as yours? It's all because of A-Levels being easier? Well you have trouble peeing now, so I'll just bring back national service, and that ought to sort the problem out fine."

Of course it's the media's annual reports that exacerbate this issue- there is more evil in the special "Have Your Say" section that accompanies such pieces on the BBC News website than could be gleaned from Darth Vader reciting the speeches of Hitler while slaughtering babies. Last year, the BBC had a video online as a reporter interviews two students- surprise, surprise, they were female- as they open their results. The customary giggling and feminine celebration ensues, as they're both excited about having received the results they need to attend their first-choice universities. Huzzah! But no! One of them has got it wrong. Her face falls as she reads the results again and works out the grade boundaries... she's fell short by a few marks of having the right grades for said university. The smirking reporter turns to the camera as celebrations turned to commiserations behind them and says some aren't so lucky. This begs the question of why the BBC still posted it online. Even that aforementioned Sun reader would have to pull his pants up, realising the video he'd just watched was actually the academic equivalent of a happy slap. Fair enough, this is an isolated case, but one exemplary of these things all the same.

Older readers may be claiming I only care about this issue because I myself await my A2 results, which arrive on Thursday. Perhaps in five years time, I will bemoan how crap the examinations are nowadays, undermining the work of the students of the future. If that happens, someone please fucking shake me. I don't think it will, because I'll have my own beef with the next generation, just as the current older generation don't begrudge their children free love or terrible 80s fashions as their parents might have. Luckily, I'm maintaining low expectations for my results- I plan to defer my entry to university, for which I need at least three B grades, and take a year out to write a novel, get work experience and perhaps travel if I can save up enough money. Of course the media would lead you to believe I will either...

a. change my mind by September 2009 and go stab somebody instead.
b. be killed abroad while travelling during my gap year.
or c. my personal favourite, be one of the first to be press-ganged when Gordon Brown bows to the calls of bringing back national service to fix the whole of Britain's under-21 population.

Hey, perhaps I should try and get interviewed! There's surely got to be some money in becoming the Face of Britain's Falling Standards? That ought to tide me over until I can get a 17 year old pregnant and claim benefits for the rest of my life, eventually becoming a Sun reader who opens his paper around August to see lots of excitable young women!


The bottom line is, as blase as I and certain others claim to be about our A-Level results, it doesn't mean we didn't work hard for our exams, and it stinks that the media undermines our work and that of the teachers who made the effort to help us out with it. Especially as the general standards of the media in the last 30 years have gone right downhill. Talk about pot and kettle.


P.S. You may remember if you know me that I had this rant last year in the Evening Gazette, but they cut out a lot of my comments about the media being so shit, funnily enough. I'll probably be back here with more to rant about when said coverage does kick off later this week, and to post what grades I actually did get.
P.P.S. Please remember- if you are an attractive female and a photographer tries to coax you into looking happy with your results for a picture, you'll be doing a great service to The Sun by complying. So stop it!
P.P.P.S. To that guy who wrote in supporting my argument when I did the Gazette thing last year, thanks very much. I can't for the life of me remember your name, but you were an older gentleman and I'm much obliged.


Foogle said...

I agree wholeheartedly with the basis of this rant - that the media does its best each and every year to undermine the work that we A-Level students do for the exams.

I think the worst part of how the media report it, is how they manage to make it it look like it's our fault that the standard is supposedly dropping, rather than the external examination boards who write the courses, the curriculum, the exams and the mark schemes that examiners use to grade papers.

I mean, even when examiners follow the mark schemes, the media kick up a fuss. Remember how everyone reacted when someone got two marks for writing 'Fuck off.' in an English paper because they displayed an attempt at communication, with correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. Even though those two marks wouldn't even merit a grade, people were still in such shock!

You can't appease the media. Even if the world was a beautiful Utopia, the current state of the media would find something wrong.

Foogle said...

Oh, I need to use another comment just to say how spiffy that second image is.

I do believe that face is rather familiar.