A-level overhaul: Cap on resits and shift to summer-only exams

classroom These plans are only for England

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England's exams watchdog Ofqual has announced a shift to summer-only exams and a cap on resits for A-level students in England.

They are the first of what are expected to be widespread changes to the exams taken by 18-year-olds.

The watchdog has published the results of a consultation on proposed changes.

It says there was support for fewer resits and exam seasons - but opposition to the idea of scrapping of AS-levels.

Most people thought the exams were "largely fit for purpose", it said.

Pupils are to be allowed just one resit per paper.

Teachers have criticised the plans, saying there is no evidence that A-levels need changing and that schools and pupils face "huge turbulence".

The government believes there are "serious problems" with the exams, that they do not prepare pupils properly for university and that the fact that they are taken "in chunks" over two years, with resits, has led to "grade inflation".

It favours the idea of exams being taken at the end of two years of study and wants more input from universities.

There were concerns that an emphasis on frequent exams meant students could not study a subject in enough depth.

Universities have said they broadly support the "thrust" of Friday's announcement, but do not want to "take ownership" of the qualifications.

A-levels are currently made up of AS-levels (taken in students' first year of study) and exams taken in the second year, known as A2s. Papers are taken in January and June.

Ofqual canvassed opinion on proposals, which included some to scrap AS-levels, bring in new A-level courses in 2014 in some "priority subjects", with other courses introduced later and for universities to be more involved with their design.

It describes its announcement as "the first phase of proposed wider A-level reforms".

The scrapping of January exams and the limit on resits come in from September 2013, but they will affect students who began their A-level studies this September. They will not have January exams in their second year as expected.

'Largely fit-for-purpose'

The body's chief regulator, Glenys Stacey, said: "Earlier this year we set out our proposals for A-level reform. The results show that respondents are very supportive of the proposals we outlined to remove the January assessments.

Start Quote

Academics at our best universities have been concerned that there are real problems with A-levels”

End Quote Department for Education

"The consultation followed on from Ofqual's research into perceptions of A-levels. This showed that the qualifications are considered to be largely fit-for-purpose but that there were some structural changes that could be made to improve them."

She said there was support for the idea of universities being involved with the design of A-levels - "but less support for universities endorsing each A-level".

Universities are already involved with the design of the exams, sitting on expert panels drawn up by exam boards.

Head teachers represented by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) back the ending of the January exams.

And they say they are pleased "to see strong consensus that in the main A-levels are fit for purpose" and support for keeping the AS-level.

"A-levels are a well known and well respected international brand and it would be foolish to damage confidence in them for no compelling reason," said ASCL leader Brian Lightman.

'Huge turbulence'

Chris Keates, the head of the NASUWT teachers' union, said Ofqual had shown no hard evidence that the wholesale change of A-levels was needed and that teachers and students would now face "huge turbulence and uncertainty".

Reducing resit opportunities would disadvantage pupils and the government seemed determined "to reduce the A-level to an elite university entrance exam" rather than a qualification for all young people, she added.

Andrew Hall, head of the AQA exam body, said: "The issue of timescales for the implementation of A-level reforms and the method of engagement with universities should be addressed as a matter of urgency.

"We agree that everyone should be entitled to resit an exam...but we have been concerned for some time that the culture of resits was distorting exam results."

The government has welcomed the changes, saying Ofqual's report shows that its reform plans are right.

A spokeswoman said: "Academics at our best universities have been concerned that there are real problems with A-levels.

"We are pleased that January exams and multiple resits will be scrapped, that people want less internal assessment and that universities have given such a clear signal that they want to be involved in designing A-levels.

"It is enormously encouraging that there is such support for a robust and relevant new system which will allow young people to demonstrate real knowledge and understanding of their subjects."


Universities UK (UUK), which represents university leaders, says it supports the "broad thrust" of the plans, but that universities do not want to "take ownership" of the qualifications and that the timetable for change is "too ambitious".

Its chief executive, Nicola Dandridge, said: "Universities have an important role to play in developing A-level curriculum and in ensuring that A-level content supports progression to higher education. University academics and staff are already extensively engaged in this way and have been working with the awarding organisations for many years.

But she added: "A-levels should remain broad enough to prepare students for the next stage of life, whether in higher education, employment or other forms of education."

Wales and Northern Ireland are conducting their own separate reviews into the future of exams for 14 to 18-year-olds so these changes will just affect students in England, potentially leading to different A-level exams being taken by pupils in different parts of the UK.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Why can't the government just leave the exam system the hell alone for once? Is a decade - heck, even HALF a decade - of stability, of the exams each class takes being like the ones the class before had too much to ask?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Teachers are getting better at teaching their subject to their students, so what does Ofqual do? Penalise the students.

    Absolutely typical of Ofqual.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Chris Keates says "there is no hard evidence that the wholesale reform of A-levels was necessary or advantageous".

    Maybe he should check the international league tables for standards in education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Looking at your English skills, the money was clearly wasted.
    As far as I am aware it is mainly private schools that have milked the current sysetm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    @24 Poddy100
    quote If "50 out of 100 kids get an A how do you know whos the better of the 50?"
    How do you know how good the year is, if the top 10% always get an A... etc it might be a bright year and then those getting a B may be better than last years A. Quota systems make it easy but are simplistic in the extreme.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    25 Perhaps your solution to hunger is to let them eat cake ? You were just trolling weren't you because if not your education has badly let you down.

    The vast majority cannot afford private school fees even if they wanted to - they do not have the choice. Only arrogant and ignorant people would suggest it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    As someone who went to private school I can say that my friends, nor myself took any resits. Maybe if parents really do have an issue with the way their children are being schooled they could always pay for the children to be taught privately. But then again in the society we live no one wants to pay their way do they. People will just complain and taken no responsibility themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Remove the A-F grades and create a national average. Top 10% get A next 10% B Next 10% C and so on. At least this way employeers who actually use this to gauge peoples abilities can do it in the confort of knowing what they are getting compare to the national average.

    If 50 out of 100 kids get an A how do you know whos the better of the 50?

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    The problem is we are trying to do 3 different tasks with one set of results - rank relative performance for university admission, certify an absolute level of capability for employers, and judge the quality of school teaching. These need seperate measures.

    7. "Students are not more intelligent year after year"
    Actually they are - at about 3 IQ points per decade since testing began in the 30s.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    An excellent idea! Lets extend the principle to professional exams too. How many accountants have had multiple re-sits for example. Also, I think if a potential mp has failed to be elected at two elections he should never be allowed to stand again! But, if you have fiddled your expenses you should be taken out of public life forever no re-sits here Education minister!

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    The philosophy of this government seems to be

    If it’s working fine, then change it for political ideological reasons, spin and hype(A levels)

    If it needs fixing, blame someone else and ignore the problem because they are not competent enough to do anything about it

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Re: 17

    OFQUAL, not OFSTED, apologies for acronym confusion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    @9. Killer Boots Man

    I am the same as you, an excellent crammer with some fantastic exam results and top degree. I am now sitting a professional qualification with continuous assessment and oh boy is it a shock to my poor lazy little brain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    This coalition of the right are returning to an exam system based on excluding students rather than testing their knowledge.
    As NuLabor replaced grant-aided higher education with a debt based system, the coalition's tripling of fees is discouraging students from poorer backgrounds.
    Gove's policy of privatising primary and secondary education will lead to parental choice by chequebook.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The mistake OFSTED are making here is to try to adjust a massive system that affects thousands of people's futures in the middle of the year. It'd be like the Government changing PAYE in December and then trying to backdate what is owed to April because it is the start of the financial year.

    It's not that grading wasn't in need of review, it's the contemptuous way in which it was done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    "2.philip sayers
    people fail exams for lots of reasons other than lack of knowledge in the subject. eg nerves,stress, social problems"

    Yes , but that means there should be more support before the exam, and not dumb down the system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    The three areas where politicians interfere the most, ie, Education, the NHS and the police, are the areas which are in the biggest mess. Let people get on with doing the jobs they are trained to do. Politicians are the main reason that our kids are being held back. If kids claimed compensation for the mess politicians have created in Education, they might keep their noses out then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    It'd be nice if the people who knew what was best for pupils - the teachers who actually work with them on a daily basis - were the ones who would make the decisions based on their behalf.

    I am sick and tired of meddling politicians using education as a political tool. Go away. The best education for our young will never be realised by politicians who have no experience how state education works.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I guess if you make them easy enough there won't be any re-sits eventually.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I resat most of my AS's when the grades were not what I or my teachers expected. Unfortunately I didn't improve on my resits, which then started to raise questions. It was then that I found out that I am dyslexic. As soon as I got the extra support and time in exams my grades went up. What would happen to people who found themselves in my situation? Without my second resits, I wouldn't be at uni!


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