Cambridge AS-level policy ‘could push students to Oxford’

The Telegraph, 10/11/14, Leading private schools accuse Cambridge University of sending out a "deeply depressing signal" after it wrote to teachers, urging them to retain AS-level exams. HMC members Andrew Halls, Headmaster of King's College School, Wimbledon, David Goodhew, Headmaster of Latymer Upper School and Mark Beard, University College School, London are quoted.

Cambridge University is facing a backlash from leading private schools amid claims its policy on A-levels will damage pupils’ education and push students towards Oxford.

Cambridge wrote to all schools and colleges last week to “strongly encourage” them to retain the AS when major reforms to the qualification system in England are introduced next year.

It suggested that taking the exams – currently sat at the end of the lower-sixth – would put students at an advantage because they act as a “robust indicator” of pupils’ ability.

But the move has been criticised by some schools amid claims the AS disrupts pupils’ education in the middle of the sixth-form and acts as a block on teaching time.

In a letter to the university, Andrew Halls, headmaster of King’s College School, London, said the impact of retaining the AS “would be significant and wholly negative on the summer term of the lower sixth”.

“You clearly wish all A level-schools would follow an identical model, regardless of our own views as teachers and head teachers,” he told the university.

David Goodhew, head of Latymer Upper School in London, told the Telegraph that the intervention represented a “deeply depressing signal from one of our major academic institutions”.

"To be clear, all schools are requested to sacrifice five weeks of time that could be spent on teaching and learning," he said.

He suggested the demand to retain AS-levels would push potential Cambridge applicants to other universities, adding: “All of this must be music to the ears of the admissions team at Oxford.”

Mark Beard, head of University College School, London, said: “For an institution that prides itself on the highest standards of education, it seems a shame that Cambridge have been unable to move with the times and appreciate that the demise of the existing AS qualification frees up the entire summer term for continued academic pursuit.”

The comments follow criticism from heads of state grammar schools last week who released a statement claiming that it was “spurious to argue that the educational needs of students are best served by schools continuing to base the first year of sixth-form on AS”.

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