A-level overhaul: return of end-of-course exams

In an article in the Telegraph, 22/01/13, Graeme Paton reports on the announcement by Michael Gove of major changes to A-levels. 

Teenagers will be tested at the end of two years – with no exams in the first 12 months – to stop courses being broken down into bite-sized chunks that encourage a “formulaic approach” to education. AS-levels, which are currently taken in the first year of the sixth-form, will become standalone qualifications, with marks no longer counting towards final A-level grades. Ministers hope it will allow many students in England to take three full A-levels and supplement them with at least one shorter AS qualification in a separate subject.

In a radical move, it was also revealed that the Russell Group of elite universities will set up a new academic board to advise the exams watchdog on the design of A-levels, which will be introduced from September 2015. Subject specialists from top universities will carry out annual reviews of exams to make sure course content is being properly assessed, it was revealed. It comes amid claims that current A-levels fail to prepare students for the demands of higher education, with many universities complaining that school-leavers lack subject knowledge and basic skills.

In a letter to the head of Ofqual, Mr Gove said there was “clear dissatisfaction among leading university academics about the preparation of A-level pupils for advanced studies”. 

Last year, Ofqual carried out a three-month consultation into the future shape of A-levels. Ministers have already accepted proposals – set out in the consultation – to place strict curbs on the number of exam resits, scrap January exams and cut down on the number of modules taken as part of each A-level course.

But under the new plan:

• AS-levels will become a standalone qualification with results no longer counting towards final A-level marks;

• Pupils will be able to take new-style AS-levels over one or two years, with qualifications covering exactly half the content of the full version;

• Full A-levels will be completely separate from AS and turned into “linear” qualifications, with all exams sat at the end of the two-year course.

Many students are likely to take three A-levels and one or two AS courses – often unrelated to their three specialist subjects – to promote more breadth in their education.

But in his letter, Mr Gove said that moving towards exams at the end of two-year courses would “allow students to develop a better understanding of their subject through the greater maturity that will be developed over two years of study”.

The new-style qualifications will be introduced in September 2015, with students taking full A-levels exams in the summer of 2017. It represents a 12-month delay compared with a previous timetable set out by the Government.

By Graeme Paton, Education Editor, Telegraph. Click here to read the article © The Telegraph.