Cambridge University tells schools: retain AS-level exams

The Telegraph, 05/11/14, Cambridge University writes to every school and college in the country, telling teachers to retain AS-level exams when they are scrapped in their current form next year

Teenagers are being told to take four AS-levels to get into Cambridge despite government plans to scrap the exam in its present form.

The university says it wants to “strongly encourage” schools to retain the AS when major reforms to the qualification system are introduced next year.

In a letter to every school and college in the country, it suggests that taking the exams – sat at the end of the lower-sixth – puts students at an advantage because they act as a “robust indicator” of pupils’ ability.

The intervention will put the university on a fresh collision course with the government which has controversially decided to axe the existing system to free up more time for teaching and learning.

From 2015, A-levels in England will be wholly assessed through end-of-course exams taken after two years, giving pupils access to extra lesson time.

AS-levels will be retained as standalone courses but results will no longer count towards the full A-level.

It was widely believed that the move would lead to large numbers of schools dropping them altogether.

But the letter from Mike Sewell, Cambridge’s director of admissions, says that AS exams “are of significant educational benefit” and act as a “better predictor of success at university” than GCSEs or teacher predictions.

The intervention could encourage large numbers of schools to retain AS courses by teaching them alongside full A-levels in the first year of the sixth-form.

The letter – delivered to every school in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – says that Cambridge will continue to use AS-level results in the admissions process, with students encouraged to aim for four qualifications.

“We strongly encourage potential applicants to take AS-level examinations in at least three, and preferably four, subjects, whether reformed or not, at the end of Year 12,” says Dr Sewell.

“This will provide us with a strong measure of applicants’ recent academic progress, will assist us and the students in judging whether an application to Cambridge is likely to be competitive, and will provide reassurance that grade predictions are not relied upon too heavily in a new system.”

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