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 191.

    Its only a matter of time before the whole education system is manipulated into Michael Goves own schoolday experience. The only choices of A level will be Latin, Classics and of course the obligatory P,P and E.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Slightly off-topic, but yesterday I came across a 17 year old who couldn't add 8 to 50 without a calculator. And she SEEMs bright ! What sort of children are our schools producing !? Time, perhaps, to KEEP children in Education until such time as they reach a certain standard. Other countries do it. Too many just want to 'get through school' as if it holds them back ! If only they knew!

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    I've taught for thirty years and have had the misfortune to watch as A Levels and GCSE's were stripped of the most challenging content. I've also seen the rise of endless 'assessment', resits being part of this. A return to a simplified structure and more rigour can't come soon enough. The suggestion that this means 'huge turbulence' for teachers is utter twaddle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    155. James_Handy
    I am a secondary school governor and a current student at university. Nearly all university degrees are modular, with exams and coursework spread out throughout the year"

    But is that just because that's all that students can currently cope with?

    When I was at university, there was very little coursework, and 1 set of exams in May/June every year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    One big exam may not be indicative of student ability if they don't do well at exams and handle pressure. That isn't a fair method and punishes learners. It is the universities that are wrong and should change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    #180 Paul. The question is how do you know if it's deserved!
    In my time some 80% of my school-mates came from the wealthier areas of my city.
    Your home environment and upbringing as a youngster WILL have an effect on your educational prospects - that's what should be sorted first.
    Then you are correct to accept elitism as a general benefit!

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    As an AS student myself, I think sitting all exams at the end of the two years would put far too much pressure on students and teachers. Too many exams to study for at one time. Since there are different modules for subjects, revising becomes so much more difficult and stressful because you must learn everything in each course. Is it the Gove's object to increase stress and pressure?

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    The purpose of education is to make people achieve their potential. We educate people to empower them.
    Education is not a selection process and it is not to seek to limit achievement or aspiration.
    (Third world countries with limited capacity in university may select but I wouldn't want that for us).

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    Grades should be allocated on a percentage basis, i.e. A grade =top 10% of results B Grade next 15% C grade next 25% etc etc. Then you know where you fit into society against your peers.

    It used to be done this way and this will remove any "oddities" that occur in any one year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    It has been politics for years. I had a physics teacher in the late 70's teaching digital electronics after school. The deputy head found out and had it stopped because it wasn't on the timetable he had written saying it was a waste of time! The result was I gave up on my A levels, withdrew application for a top University, and later in life didn't even bother to collect my PhD.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    I well remember sitting both 'O'and 'A' Levels in June with streaming hayfever, and have often wondered how much better I would have done at another time of year.

    So, 0/10 for equality and flexibility!

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    179. Exiledblade
    The root of this is an attempt to re-introduce 'elitism'"

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with 'elitism' if it's deserved. It is correct for the best soldiers to be an 'elite' fighting force, and for the best academics to be the 'elite' academics.

    What is bad is the most rich to be the 'elite' academics, but that's what we have now the grammar schools have gone...

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    The root of this is an attempt to re-introduce 'elitism'
    Back in the 70's (when I took 'A' levels) they were only taken by a few, mostly in Grammar Schools. The hoi-polloi left to become the work-force.
    Since Gove can't at the moment re-introduce selection at 11 but hates mass attendance at Universities - he is trying desperately to re-establish elitism but at a higher age!

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    The limit on resits will only increase the disparity between the social classes which make it into higher education. Perhaps that's what the government intends..

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    I'm surprised that the universities are happy with this, given that they base offers on the known module results.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    Either you have the expertise required to pass the exam should be the only criterion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    This is just more politically motivated tinkering. Where is the evidence that this is required? It (as with all the other non-evidential based interference) has everything to do with Gove's political ambitions and nothing to do with learners, learning and effective assessment. Education should not be used to further a politician's ambitions. Shame on you, Mr Gove

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    'All those arguing about driving tests - they are not the same as taking academic exams!'
    Too right!
    Driving test tests theory and practice in a real life situation. Academic tests tend to favour those with a good memory while giving little indication of how their often short lived knowledge will be used in a real life situations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    I fail to see how restricting re-sits is going to improve our children's education. All it says is that if you don't get it right first time, you might as well give up rather than try to reach the required standard. What kind of lesson in life is that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    Why this naive idea that the best model for education and its assessment is one based on what was done 20+ years ago? Are there other areas of public life where we indulge this nostalgia for what used to be?I doubt we carry out surgical operations, build bridges or manage companies in a slavish mimic of days gone by.Gove is archaic, straight out of Woodhouse or 'Just William' not this century.


Page 8 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.