Tougher A-levels to allow fewer re-takes

 
A-level exams The exam watchdog is announcing an overhaul to make A-levels more challenging

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A-levels should be strengthened by only allowing one re-sit, replacing "modules" with end-of-year exams and increasing university involvement, says the exam watchdog, Ofqual.

Ofqual chief, Glenys Stacey, says too many re-sits by pupils can "devalue individual exams".

There are also questions over whether AS-levels should be scrapped.

The A-level reforms will mean "higher education becomes more involved", says Ms Stacey.

Ofqual is setting out proposals on changes to A-levels, which will be open for consultation for three months.

If the proposals are adopted, the first changes would be applied to A-level courses beginning in September 2013 - with pupils taking reformed exams in summer 2015.

Changes to content would be introduced from September 2014.

'Gold standard'

This "gold standard" qualification is taken by pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The exam watchdog is suggesting a shift away from a "modular" structure - and a reduction in the opportunities for pupils to keep re-taking exam components to push up their grades.

A-LEVEL REFORM PROPOSALS

  • Fewer re-sits - with option of only allowing a single re-take
  • Less modular structure - move towards traditional linear course, ending in summer exams
  • Question mark over future of AS-levels
  • If AS-levels scrapped, would return to two-year A-level, assessed by final exam
  • Greater involvement from universities in designing courses
  • If proposals accepted, changes introduced from courses beginning September 2013

The proposals call for an end of the January exams and puts forward the option of only allowing one re-take for AS and final A-level exams.

This would mean that there would only be one set of exams each year, in the summer term at the end of each of the two years.

Ms Stacey says this would "re-balance the emphasis of A-levels onto the learning rather than the assessment".

The role of AS-levels remains open to debate - with questions raised about whether they should continue in their current form.

Ofqual says it is "neutral" on the future of AS-levels and sets out three options - scrapping them altogether, keeping them in their current form or turning them into a standalone qualification which did not contribute to the A-level.

If AS-levels were to be scrapped, it would mean A-levels returning to a two-year course with a final set of summer exams.

Degree ready

Brian Lightman, leader of the ASCL head teachers' union, called for more debate about the value of the modular structure.

"It is simplistic to say that a course done in modules is easier than one with terminal exams. Nearly all university courses are modular and I have yet to hear criticism that they aren't rigorous enough," said Mr Lightman.

Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote to Ms Stacey earlier this year, calling for universities to become more involved in A-levels, so they could better prepare students for degree courses.

The proposals set out by Ofqual say that universities should be engaged in the content and design of A-levels - and that the qualifications should have the support of at least 20 universities.

Responding to the changes, the Russell Group of leading universities said that A-levels were "broadly fit for purpose" - but the changes would be beneficial.

Wendy Piatt, the group's director general, said the culture of re-sits was fuelling "grade inflation" - and so supported limits on re-taking exams.

She also supported a move away from a modular approach to teaching and testing - saying that pupils could arrive at university still expecting to be "spoon fed".

The Russell Group has also voiced concerns about the lack of rigour in some subjects, such as maths and English.

Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ group of universities, said that the level of engagement in A-levels expected of universities would require a "co-ordinating body".

Ms Tatlow also said that the qualification would lose credibility if approval was limited to only a "small sub-set" of universities.

Neil Carberry of the CBI said that employers would also want to see their needs reflected in changes.

"The focus needs to be on making A-levels more challenging, to ensure that young people are not just better prepared for university, but are also well-equipped for work."

 

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  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 37.

    The current mixed format suits those with balanced strengths, contrary to what some think there is no dominance of coursework. Returning to a "traditional" format will only disadvantage those who simply have a poor day on exam day. I'm currently at Oxford uni, from state schooling, and would have found exam-only teaching counter-productive and unrealistic in preparing people for life.

  • rate this
    +16

    Comment number 36.

    When I sat my A levels 25-odd years ago I had a number of 3 hour papers at the end of 2 years of study. You had to show what you had learnt, and most importantly, retained.

    If you learn an area of a subject, then have an exam, you can then forget about it and move on to the next thing.

    You have to prove that you have retained what you have learned over a long period, not just for a few weeks.

  • rate this
    +14

    Comment number 35.

    Allowing resits has been counter productive. Since they were allowed the entrance requirements at top Universities have gone up considerably as it is the only method they have at distinguishing the brightest. At this rate, if some action is not taken with the A-level it will become defunct as Universities will start to introduce their own entrance tests.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 34.

    I can hardly imagine what teachers must feel like in their employment with, so called experts telling how our education should be practised. Must be a headache for them. Officials changing their minds day by day, and now this meddlesum muppet called Gove treading on very soft ground in the Levison Enquiry.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 33.

    Why this government of out of touch, incompetent, lazy over privileged prep school boys think they can interfere with state education is beyond me - it seems to me that they were so retarded as children that their parents needed to spend vast amounts on money just to produce these educationally sub normal idiots.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 32.

    For the record, AS's should also not be banned as they are often the forefront of motivation for students. If I didn't know my AS grades then I would have no idea how to improve, I would probably also not achieve my university grade that I need. We are students, we are not criminals. Please stop making our lives harder!

  • rate this
    +12

    Comment number 31.

    Just bring back Grammar Schools and stop all this "all must have prizes" nonsense ! This will help social mobility no end.

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 30.

    //Adam
    33 Minutes ago
    This is very worrying. I did my A levels in 2009 and I probably wouldn't have got into university if it hadn't been for the fact they were done in modular format. //

    You mean 'I wouldn't have passed if they had been hard'. Sums it all up quite nicely.

    A-levels and degree courses should be hard and demanding.

  • rate this
    +13

    Comment number 29.

    In answer to your question yes I was a teacher of science in Northampton.So I do know what teaching A level is like. From your reply you have shown that you cannot read properly, I stated some of these 'incompetant and lazy' teachers, not all teachers. They also do get to much holiday. Maybe if there where less holidays then standards would really be better.

    -It's TOO much holiday!
    Get it right!

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 28.

    I sat A levels in 1969. Three languages + Russian O level all within 3 weeks. Written and oral exams. It was hard. We worried about hayfever, being ill, arrriving late - but we just got on with it. Never thought about "stress". Things have become too easy for students, you don't often get two chances in life. Oh - and I became a teacher too.....

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 27.

    20. Britainsnotpleased

    Although I cannot suspect the veracity of your statements about being an A level teacher. One thing I am sure of you are the first teacher in history to think they have too much holiday time.

    If you are an A level teacher you should be defending the rights of professionals to run the education system and opposing politicians who try and fail to do so effectively.

  • rate this
    -9

    Comment number 26.

    I am currently sitting my A-Levels now and I already think I may not have done my best in some. I was always told that A-Levels were the hardest exams. I think it's unfair how people who have not sat A-Levels are trying to decide our fate.
    They're just making it harder for people to get jobs. Seems like they want a lot of unemployment really doesn't it?

  • Comment number 25.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 24.

    Britainsnotpleased

    "In answer to your question yes I was a teacher of science in Northampton.So I do know what teaching A level is like. From your reply you have shown that you cannot read properly, I stated some of these 'incompetant and lazy' teachers, not all teachers. They also do get to much holiday. Maybe if there where less holidays then standards would really be better."

    Doh!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 23.

    "19.
    Opondo
    ...in the 'real world', every new project needs a different knowledge set, and you polish up on specifics when needed, which is analogous with modular exams."

    Not sure this is universally true. An ED doctor has to be able to respond instantly to whatever comes through the door without going away to read up. Likewise a barrister in court getting an unexpected question from the judge.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 21.

    Schooling must not be confused with educating children for university. Exams and assessments are the means for judging how a child has progressed under the guidance of a particular teacher. If you get a poor teacher you are less likely to get a good result, so results measure both the child and the competence of teachers. Somehow this truth needs to considered when judging a child's exams results.

  • rate this
    -8

    Comment number 20.

    14.schoolies
    In answer to your question yes I was a teacher of science in Northampton.So I do know what teaching A level is like. From your reply you have shown that you cannot read properly, I stated some of these 'incompetant and lazy' teachers, not all teachers. They also do get to much holiday. Maybe if there where less holidays then standards would really be better.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 19.

    About time too; the unlimited resits is just silly.

    Keep trying until you get lucky, basically. Worrying that we're handing out pretty prestigious qualifications on this basis.

    Not so sure about terminal exam instead of modular though; in the 'real world', every new project needs a different knowledge set, and you polish up on specifics when needed, which is analogous with modular exams.

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 18.

    Why not just say.
    If you go to a fee paying school you will get all the assistance you require to pass at a high standard, while if you go to a state school you are on your own!
    I went to 2 of the Russell Group Universities in the 1970's and 80's from a state education background, the reversion to private school centric policies is an entirely regressive move and does nothing for social mobility

 

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