CAG – centre assessed grades – the acronym that will stay with the generation who completed A-levels and GCSEs in 2020 and 2021 for life – "Generation CAG". With GCSE and A-level qualifications being awarded via CAG, how will this affect this generation in the future?

Since the spring of 2020 for students, parents and teachers alike the impact of COVID has been compounded by the algorithm debacle and its dreadful impact upon A-level students on results day along with the abrupt withdrawal of the algorithm methodology within a few days; assurances that formal, traditional externally assessed examinations would take place in the summer of 2021 only for this to be subsequently taken away. All this against a back drop of two terms of remote tuition since the spring of 2020 that - whilst in many cases has been of an excellent standard - can never replace face-to-face teaching.

Much attention has, quite rightly, been given to the impact upon young peoples’ mental health and well-being during the past twelve months and UCL’s Covid-19 Social Study has and continues to undertake work in assessing the impact and more details can be found via www.covidsocialstudy.org

However, the purpose of this article is to briefly consider the potential impact upon Generation CAG during the next few years as they seek employment opportunities post A-level or post-degree. In short, how will employers view those holding CAG GCSEs and CAG A-levels?

Firstly, the obvious point is that all of those within the 2020 and 2021 examination cohorts will be in the same situation, namely that of presenting CAG to prospective employers. Thus comparisons by employers of the academic achievements of those within this peer group will not have a CAG influence at play.

Secondly, some employers will be more interested in an applicant’s non-academic profile. Aphrodite Papadatou’s posting on www.hrreview.co.uk addresses the question of which skills employers value most with the top two skills sought being communication skills and relationship building; skills for which being in possession of A-levels whether CAG or non-CAG are clearly not a prerequisite.

In 2013 the British Council produced global research in partnership with Booz Allen Hamilton and Ipsos Public Affairs. The resultant report, “Culture at Work”, stated how highly employers value intercultural skills; the latter include the ability to understand different cultural contexts and viewpoints and demonstrating respect for others. Self-evidently the world is a very different place now but one might argue that the need for such intercultural skills is in fact higher than ever as the world edges it way back to breaking down perceived and real social, cultural, political and economic barriers. In very simple terms, a CAG A-level student with good intercultural skills is very likely to be in a stronger position than a non-CAG A-level student who lacks these skills.

The lockdowns that have occurred since March 2020 have undoubtedly meant that the opportunities to develop and enhance non-academic skills have been dramatically reduced but, writing as a parent and College principal, I have been very impressed at how many of the CAG Generation have demonstrated those key attributes of mutual respect and building relationships with others.

Clearly it is not new to state that skills of whatever nature are as important as academic achievements; that has been the case for a long time. However, it is of particular importance to the CAG generation as the reality is that for many employers academic achievements continue to be a key element in their recruitment processes and are what might be termed a baseline when assessing applicants; used to “sift and sort” as a very senior HR director said to me many years ago. Thus being able to provide evidence of skills that are relevant to the employer being targeted will undoubtedly provide a counter-balance to any perceived “devaluation” of CAG qualifications.

Finally, and specific to the 2021 CAG cohort, the choice of university and degree course to commence in the autumn of 2021 will be of considerable importance in providing any counter-balance to CAG results’ bias should the latter occur.  As the university 2021 entry cycle has not yet ended and even if you have already made your firm and insurance choices, it is not too late to take another careful, detailed look at your target university and degree course – is it a university popular with employers generally or those within your specific target area of employment? Does it have impressive employability rates for those who graduate from the course? Does the degree course offer options that have clear links with your future career? Once again these are questions to which answers should be sought in any normal academic year but for the CAG Generation who may well need an additional tool in their job application armoury, they are questions of considerable importance.

 

This article was written by Mark Love, Principal, Oxford Sixth Form College

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