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

classroom These plans are only for England

Related Stories

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.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Regardless of the validity or not of these changes, this is a shoddy approach to policy making. A consultative approach to forming policy should be the norm. They even did it with primary education under Labour (Ed Balls no less) and it had lots of support, until Prince Charles stuck his oar in and empty rhetoric dictated the changes be shelved. Speak to the teachers, pupils and businesses!

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    By the time Gove and his cornies have finished playing around with our exam system it will be totally unfit for purpose unless you are white middle class and have the good luck to go to public school. Heaven help our poor children under this government, disrespect for their exams is shown and then there re no jobs for them. Why are we putting up with this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    Glenys Stacey. Original degree a 2.2 BA in Law. So she clearly understands the GCSE and A Level standards required by Universities! Surely, we could do better than her. Why doesn't Cameron put her out to grass in the Lords?

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    I did my A levels 16 years ago, before they went modular. Out of interest, I recently checked what grades were needed to get into my Uni course and they were a whole grade/subject higher.

    My old Uni has also slipped down from 4th best when I went, to 16th now, so I don't think it can be a case of my Uni getting better and therefore more selective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    At least the timing of the announcement means that teachers cannot complain that the pupils have been caught unawares. they have almost the whole allotted study period to prepare. There are very few pupils who intend to only go as far as A levels, most seeing them as the last stage before university. harder A levels should cut down on the drop outs, costing the students and country a fortune.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    "....my brain is fairly easily overloaded with information."

    Then you should not have been given a place to do a PhD! Give it up and let someone who deserves the place take over.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Yesterday's BBC news featured how Wellington College had been replicated in China. No comments seen from touchy-feely educationalists. Would have been interesting to see whether the examination system had been transferred, or not. I suspect not. We routinely hear Universities and employers assert that the current system is hardly fit for purpose. Will need more than a change 'happy to glad' fix.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.


    I agree with Chezza's comment, however as a teacher I find the word "cushy" a bit offensive. The modular system does need to go, but the exams are far from easy


    Apologies for any offense - perhaps I should have used a better word.

    The point I was trying to make is that studying for a 12 week modular assessment is surely easier than 104 weeks worth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    As a teacher, I welcome these changes. We need to get away from the leftwing theories which have made our expensive education system unfit for purpose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    You should be able to resit as many times as you want (but only one resit allowed for free)

    If you have an A at AS level and achieve a C at A2 after second resit, then you shouldn't have to start from scratch and take the AS again
    Equally if you have a C at AS but fail the A2 after 2 attempts you should be able to continue to resit the A2 but you should have to pay for more than one resit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Don't universities also have internal assessment? I don't think Mr Gove is joining up his thinking. The comments below are spot on. Should we allow folk to re-sit, say, their driving test, once only? A levels are still hard, believe me, but nowadays teachers are better than ever at 'teaching to the test', revision guides are plentiful and everyone can access marks schemes on-line.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    On one hand we critisize our schools for not teaching our children well enough - but when they do we call the result grade inflation.

    This is an absolute farce.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    This is great news. We need more kids achieving good A-levels and going to Uni; there are so many unfilled graduate positions and there is such a glut of non-academic kids lining up to learn a trade. Ha! I'm sick of interviewing scores of semi brain-dead grads that have resat their way into Uni and crammed their way through their degree.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    @39 - The biggest point to make.

    With Labour having dumbed down GCSEs to make the results look better, pupils going up to A-levels face a very tall mountain. If the GCSEs (or whatever they will be) are set at the right level, then A-level students will still find it tough (as it should be), but it won't be half the shock they get today.
    Many resits should be ok, but have big gaps between.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    @105 LeftLibertarian

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but the salaries for teachers in Finland (the highest-rated education in Europe) only £19500 to start, rising to a mere £28000 after 15 years.

    Which is far less than England, perhaps Finnish teachers still regard teaching as a vocation?

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    50. Yombyaku
    Am I missing something? Resits aren't easier,"

    No, but they are different.

    So, if you only learn 10% of the subject matter, and resit enough times, you'll probably get a decent mark on one of the times, and very poor marks on the others.

    Resits should be seen as a last resort if there was an issue like illness or family problems. Not as an unlimited right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.


    That is my point. The result of the exam is almost meaningless if students forget it. What matters is how they get to the point of passing. If you take 3 months to study for and pass an exam you are clearly more capable than someone who has 5 attempts over two years at that exam to achieve the same level. A university would prefer that independent, capable learner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    "Negative Thinkers focus on Problems
    Positive thinkers focus on Solutions" Please tell us Ofqual you are focusing on the solution.

    Can Mr.Gove take this as an Opportunity to Do better work than Yesterday

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    A level exams are not just for the 40% who go to University. As a teacher of Applied A levels, and a one time Principal Examiner, I wonder if we're going to let down those who want to learn practical skills and instead focus on the academics. The trouble with politicians is they believe 16-18 year-olds are best served by what they took at that age, the academic route, and look what it did to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    I agree with Chezza's comment, however as a teacher I find the word "cushy" a bit offensive. The modular system does need to go, but the exams are far from easy


Page 11 of 17


More Education & Family stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.