Education & Family

Warning over 'two-tier' A-level overhaul

Image caption Ucas fears universities will prefer those subjects overhauled at a early stage of the revamp

An overhaul of A-levels could lead to a two-tier system with students suffering discrimination because of their subject choice, ministers are being warned.

Proposals have been tabled to bring in new-style A-levels on a subject-by-subject basis over a number of years.

But the university admissions service, Ucas, says subjects revamped at a later stage could lose value and suffer "lasting damage" as a result.

Ministers say they are responding to concerns about A-level standards.

The admissions body also warns that there is a risk that if the new courses are seen as tougher, students could be put off, leading to a fall in demand.

Ucas raises the concerns in its response to Ofqual's consultation on A-level reform.

Ofqual is seeking views on proposals to bring in the first new A-level courses in 2014 in some "priority subjects" , with other courses introduced between 2015 and 2018.

Ucas says there is a risk these "early phase subjects" may be preferred by universities.

This could could create "a two-tier situation where some subjects lose value, and students may be discriminated against because of subject choice", it said in its response.

'Tougher' A-levels

Ucas argues that there is also a risk that if new specifications are perceived to be more difficult, students might steer clear of the key subjects.

This is what happened to A-level maths as a result of reforms known as Curriculum 2000, Ucas adds.

Its chief executive, Mary Curnock Cook, said: "We have reform of A-levels on the table. I don't think we know what is actually going to be done yet, but the kind of mood music is tougher A-levels.

"I know Curriculum 2000 was 10 years ago, but have people forgotten that if you make A-levels tougher, you will depress participation and you will depress achievement?

"So if A-levels are still the key currency for progression to higher education we just need to have that on our radar screen."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "Academics in our best universities have been clear that there are serious problems with A-levels and they are not preparing pupils properly for rigorous degrees.

"Ofqual have recently consulted on A-level reform. We will await the outcomes of their consultation and set out our reforms in due course."

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