It's strange that when you hear political discussions about A-levels the vast majority of the time they seem to be about grades and assessment. Is that really the most important thing about them? Surely that bit is stressful enough for students to go through without labouring the point?
It sometimes seems that if we could figure out a way to just do the assessment bit in a meaningful way without any of the awkward learning stuff, the government would jump upon it at a shot. Just imagine it, we could have vast education factories churning out kids with letters by the hundred and offer them as commodities to the universities. Wouldn't that be great?
Judging by the current portrayal by the media, they're not even worthy of consideration as being a qualification in their own right, but instead are more considered as university entrance exams. We then wonder where the incentive to choose alternative non-academically focused qualifications, which will always generally be looked down by the academic directors of the world no matter how good they are.
Somehow we've managed to develop a further education system based solely around the idea of academic competition, but what's competitive about learning to further your own knowledge and skills?
The A-level system seemed fairly antiquated when I took mine just over 10 years ago (part of the reason I very nearly didn't take them). Although there have been reforms since then, they all seem to have just been cosmetic, the qualifications are still essentially the same. Besides however much you change them, they will always have been better "in our day". How else can we continue to feel superior in the face of improving results?
6 years ago a government working group did come up with a proposal to equal the playing field between vocational and academic qualifications, simplify the system and reduce the amount of formal assessment in education for 14-19 year olds. Alas, we cannot have most of the suggestions as laid out in the Tomlinson report and A-levels look to remain the defacto standard for further education.