School chooses international A level over Gove reform

In an article in the Times, 12/02/13, Greg Hurst reports on HMC school: The Perse's plans to switch to an international A level to avoid Michael Gove’s exam reforms.

The Perse School in Cambridge wants to adopt the international A level in biology from September and will consider doing the same with other subjects. Ed Elliott, head master, said that one of its attractions was that it was a “stable qualification” and not subject to forthcoming reforms of A levels. He predicted that other independent schools would follow suit.

Only a handful of schools enter students for international A levels, which are produced by the Cambridge International Examinations board for schools overseas. Hundreds of schools have, however, switched to international GCSEs. These are structured like the old O level, with exams after two years, and need not follow the national curriculum.

Last month he (Mr Gove) announced separate plans to re-structure A levels, which will revert to two-year qualifications leading to a single set of exams. This would mean scrapping the status of AS levels, which teenagers currently sit after a year as a stepping stone to a full A level, and making the AS level a stand-alone exam.

Cambridge university and the heads of several leading schools have criticised the change to AS levels but The Perse is the first to switch the international A level as a result.

Mr Elliott, whose school came in the top ten of The Times school league table last month, currently offers his sixth form a mix of A levels and the Pre-U, an alternative designed five years ago with input from leading independent schools.

“Quite a few schools who have moved over to IGCSEs might be attracted to the international A level, for a number of reasons. One is qualification stability,” Mr Elliott said.

“Every time there is a change or there might be change it causes a lot of uncertainty among pupils and parents and absorbs a lot of teacher time worrying about and preparing for curriculum change. That is teacher time taken away from teaching and learning here and now.”

Candidates taking an international A level begin with an AS level, whose exams can be sat after a year or at the end of the full two-year course, which for Mr Elliott is another attraction.

“I like the fact that there is an exam at the end of the lower sixth,” he said. “It also means universities have got some data to go on.”

By Greg Hurst, The Times. Click here to read the article © The Times.