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
    +1

    Comment number 197.

    It is time to take education out of the hands of government and leave it in the hands of those who actually know what they are doing and have a greater plan. They have done it with interest rates - why not education!! We just keep getting things changed again and again just because of the whims of different education secretaries. How can an ex-journalist (with NI) have a clue about education!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 196.

    An earlier poster said that if things carry on like they are, universities will introduce their own entrance exams, because A levels will be useless in terms of discriminatory power.

    Well, that's already happened. Oxbridge have long (always?) had their own admissions tests, but for years now, other Russell group Unis have had them too for many different subjects (law, maths,.... see UCAS site)

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 195.

    I am a chemistry teacher. Students doing old style A levels had a choice of questions and only answer those they were good at. So it was possible to only know part of the course. The present A levels require a much broader knowledge. As there is no choice of questions. Schools abuse the modular system by kicking out low grade AS students to inflate their position in the league tables.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 194.

    @hopefulpragmatist

    http://www.times-series.co.uk/news/9210795.A_levels_results_exceed_national_average

    It's difficult to find date on A-level results but this article claims 27% achieve A-grade. That's a figure that I believe to be too high, but it's still a far cry from virtually everyone achieving 3 A's. Not to mention it includes all of the "soft" A-Levels.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 193.

    Further to post 187

    Yes I'm an old fogey harking back to the old system of 2x3 hour exams per subject, at the end of 2 years, but I also have a son doing all 3 sciences and maths at A' level. Believe me getting a high grade is much easier now.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 192.

    I don't see why it matter if exams are getting easier. The grade boundaries are moderated so that a set percentage of students will get each grade. If the exam is easier and the average scores higher, the grade boundaries are raised.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 191.

    186. atom94
    The amount of subject matter in the course just couldn't be crammed into one exam - it would be impossible to revise for when you have to remember that much information.
    -----
    That's the whole point - you used to have to revise the whole subject (that's what I had to do) because you didn't know what you would get on the exam paper - that's why they were hard.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 190.

    This is how it should be. Exams are totally useless if they allow you to learn some things, regurgitate in an exam and then forget. End of year exams are the way it should be and truly test someone's understanding.

    This is because by having a year worth of material in exams, the questions can be interwoven and relate to many topics at once. It will test problem solving and critical thinking.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 189.

    @100: "Exams are difficult enough on their own but to put them all into one final exam where a massive range of question can be asked is surely asking too much?"

    I sat the "old" A-levels in 2001, and managed to do exactly that. Got AAB grades, too. It wasn't asking too much.

    Incidentally, I've just completed an A-level in French and found the course easier than those I took 11 years ago.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 188.

    Good lord - more meddling with our children's futures?
    Should be illegal.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 187.

    David 181

    The universities have all inflated their requirements precisely because the modular nature of the current exams & the unlimited ability to resit, mean that they can realistically expect virtually everyone to be capable of 3 A's. The current system does not do you any favours.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 186.

    I don't know about all subjects, but with A level maths they would have to massively simplify the syllabus to implement single end-of-year exams. The amount of subject matter in the course just couldn't be crammed into one exam - it would be impossible to revise for when you have to remember that much information.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 185.

    @AndyC555 - I don't think there has ever been a time when you were actually prohibited from taking 5 A levels at once. I took mine more than 30 years ago, and did all 5 (sciences + maths) at the end of upper sixth.

    In some ways I think it is harder in terms of work quantity now though - even the sciences have very large amounts of fact-learning (instead of understanding and problem solving).

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 184.

    @Havel

    You quoted me on something I didn't even say? I don't know if A-levels from the 70's are easier, or harder. Unless you actually teach the subject, there's no way for you to know either.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 183.

    181. David
    I find it perplexing that people who did their A-level decades ago are commenting on the difficulty of exams now. How do you even know they are "easier" now when you aren't even doing them? As someone doing three sciences and maths this year, I can say A-levels are certainly not a "joke".
    ---
    As opposed to yourself - who "knows" that they are not easier ?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 182.

    100.
    Josh Bernard
    3 Hours ago

    I am a current A2 student....Exams are difficult enough on their own but to put them all into one final exam where a massive range of question can be asked is surely asking too much?

    Testing what you've actually learnt rather than read the previous week?! Yes that's far too much.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 181.

    I find it perplexing that people who did their A-level decades ago are commenting on the difficulty of exams now. How do you even know they are "easier" now when you aren't even doing them? As someone doing three sciences and maths this year, I can say A-levels are certainly not a "joke" Resits are needed due to high standard uni's demand, one silly mistake in a paper and you are not getting in.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 180.

    @175. AndyC555

    These were university exams (so not public domain) where multiple choice questions are pretty common.

    A level is here:

    http://web.aqa.org.uk/qual/gce/business/economics_materials_old.php?id=05&prev=

    My point is that multiple choice doesn't mean easy, especially when there is negative marking. Medicine is another subject that uses lots of multiple choice. Is that easy too?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 179.

    @174.newdr88
    I agree a lot of things have been discovered and as a result things on previous versions of A levels are now outdated, but I was told by my Physics teacher when I sat my A levels that special relativity and a description of waves using complex number representation used to be on the course, removed as it was too hard to those not taking maths.This is now first term University stuff.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 178.

    If the system does change, I feel sorry for the last cohort to take exams under the current system. I sat my A-Levels in 2001, it was the last year under the 'old system' and it was awful. The revision guides were all focused on the new A2/AS system, the teachers were more concerned about 'curriculum 2000' as it was, and getting people through the AS exams than us, plugging away at the old system.

 

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