A level reform will cause chaos, warns head – HMC Chairman Richard Harman features

The Times, 06.07.15, a headmasters’ leader says that A-level reforms could confuse teenagers and their parents for several years as they are being introduced in stages. HMC Chairman, Richard Harman, Headmaster of Uppingham School features.

Teachers will also have to rethink how they teach and use different approaches for each subject, he said.

Richard Harman, the headmaster of Uppingham School, in Rutland, and the chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference of independent schools, criticised their implementation, saying redesigned GCSEs should have preceded new A levels.

New A levels in one group of subjects will begin in autumn, followed by a second tranche including languages, geography, music and religious studies next year. Maths, further maths and design and technology will be changed in 2018.

The new A levels will be assessed entirely by exams after two years, with AS levels becoming optional and no longer counting towards final grades.

Many teenagers starting sixth forms in September will study a mixture of old and new A levels, some with AS levels after a year and others with linear exams after two years.

Mr Harman said: “The A level changes mean that we have got to re-train ourselves to teach linearity rather than modularity and it has got to be done over time and at different paces for different subjects. There is a danger that is quite confusing for parents, particularly, and pupils.

“For two or three years at least there is going to be a mixed economy in many schools. We are all giving a lot of thought to how we try to explain it to people and take people through that, not only for parents and pupils, but also for universities.”

Although some schools, especially in the state sector, plan to continue entering sixth form pupils for AS levels even in subjects that switch to linear exams, Mr Harman predicted AS levels would “wither on the vine” over time.

A key reason is that AS levels are taught over two terms followed by revision and exams in the summer term. Teenagers studying linear A levels can have an extra term’s teaching in the lower sixth form and finish their course a term early the following year.

“If the rhythm is different for each subject, that is challenging, for teachers and students and parents, because you don’t necessarily know where you are,” Mr Harman said. “Don’t forget that some of the younger teachers did modular A levels themselves and have therefore never taught or even taken linear exams in the A level.

“Therefore we have got to make sure that professional development is there to help share the experience of those who have done it in the past and make sure they go on the right courses to teach to a different rhythm.”

Even if AS levels fall out of fashion, Mr Harman said schools might introduce end-of-year tests in the lower sixth for pupils studying linear subjects.

“In the old days, some of the lower sixth could be a bit wasted because there wasn’t the focus of exams, and teenage boys in particular need short-term focus sometimes,” he said.

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