Top universities oppose Michael Gove plans to split AS from A levels

In an article in The Times, 14/02/13, Greg Hurst reports on The Russell Group's resistance to Michael Gove’s plans to restructure A levels.

In a statement posted on the group’s website, its director, Wendy Piatt, said that AS levels in their current form offer teenagers greater breadth of study and are useful to universities when deciding which candidates they should offer conditional places.

Their opposition is another blow to Mr Gove’s exam reforms after he was forced last week to abandon proposals for a new exam at 16 to replace GCSEs in core subjects with a single exam board for each.

At present all A-level students begin by studying AS levels: teenagers typically choose four subjects and sit exams in their first year. They then decide which subjects to pursue for a second year of study, known as an A2, whose marks in exams are combined with those at AS level to make up an overall A-level grade. Teenagers commonly drop one AS level after a year and continue with three subjects as full A levels.

Mr Gove has criticised the system for forcing teenagers to sit too many exams, saying that these intrude on deeper study. Under his proposals, sixth formers would select subjects to study as full A levels from the outset and then sit final exams after two years. This involves another change, dropping the modular structure of A levels with separate exams for each unit, a feature which the universities support. AS levels would be decoupled from A levels to become stand-alone qualifications, as demanding as an A level but covering half their material.

In her statement on behalf of the Russell Group, Dr Piatt said that AS levels in their existing form were “valued by universities”. “We have argued that AS levels in their current format are important in giving students the opportunity to take an additional smaller qualification in a contrasting subject alongside their main A-level subjects,” she said.

“This adds valuable breadth and flexibility to their learning programme, and can encourage the take-up of strategically important subjects. We are not convinced therefore that a new stand-alone AS qualification is necessary and are concerned that with no links to the A-level, it may not deliver the same benefits as the existing AS-levels.”

Grades for AS level exams, which candidates usually take in their lower sixth year at 16 or 17, were useful in university admissions, especially for the most competitive courses, she said.

“Without access to such information, it will be even more difficult for our institutions to identify the most talented students from amongst the very many applicants with excellent results at GCSE,” Dr Piatt said.

“AS-level results after one year of study can also be effective in giving talented students from poorer backgrounds the confidence to apply to a highly selective university, thus helping to widen participation.”

Click here to read the article © The Times.