If you really want to annoy an 18 year old you just wait until "A" Level results day and then you repeat one of those endless stories about how much easier exams are these days compared to when you were a lad. When they display their list of Grade A modules and gold-embossed certificates you casually point out that "A" levels are given out with Big Macs as a special promotional offer. You then press home your advantage by informing them that when you were young Aristotle just scraped a low "B" in his "A" Level philosophy exam and John Logie Baird flunked his Television and Media Studies test.
As a short cut to getting a thump on the nose it works a treat. And I have to say that I have every sympathy for the young thugs concerned : there can be few things more annoying than being told that your success is due to falling standards rather than rising effort. A few things are clear. The exams in themselves are not getting easier. The increased popularity of so-called "soft subjects" are not the reason for increased pass rates (the highest percentage of "A" grades are to be found amongst "hard subjects" such as maths and chemistry). The reason behind the increased success rate at "A" level is, I believe, down to three factors.
First, and most importantly, the kids of today are probably brighter than we were 40 or so years ago. Second, there is a substantially increased focus on achieving high grades, to the extent that on this day each year, "A Level" pass rates will always push a second-rate war off the front pages. And third, changes to the way in which exams are marked means that marks are based upon a structured marking scheme rather than a vague and subjective "feel" on the part of the marker.
So congratulations to my own "A Level" student. Alexander came away with a full set of A grades and confirmation of his place at Sheffield Medical School in September. All those nights when he stayed at home and worked rather than going out and sniffing glue or stealing a car have paid off. His deserved success - and that of his fellow students - was down to their own hard work and efforts - and don't let anybody tell us any different.