Private schools may drop A-levels due to Michael Gove’s plans for overhaul

In an article on the Guardian, 14/08/13, Ben Quinn reports Gove's plans to separate AS-levels from A-levels may cause fee-paying schools to look into international alternatives. Former HMC Chairman Andrew Grant, St Albans School, and HMC member Ed Elliott, The Perse School are quoted.

Concerns over Education Secretary Michael Gove's plans to implement radical changes to school exams are prompting some leading privates chools to consider dropping A-level courses in favour of an international alternative.

Under a major overhaul of the system, Gove has announced that AS-levels are to be separated from A-levels to become a separate qualification, resulting in teenagers who take A-levels no longer sitting exams after one year but being tested at the end of their two-year course. AS-levels – taken after one year of study – would no longer count towards a student's final A-level grade.

But in the latest indication of opposition to the plans, some fee-paying schools are now reportedly looking at introducing international A-levels for pupils, which would still allow them to take AS-levels halfway through the course.

Andrew Grant, head of fee-paying St Albans School in Hertfordshire and a former chair of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), said he is looking "very, very seriously" at international A-levels.

He told "I know I am speaking for many of my colleagues in HMC when I say we will look for a way of continuing the AS-level system. We at St Albans School are looking very, very seriously at international A-levels because we feel there is a tremendous value in the feedback provided by AS-levels at the halfway point."

Grant told the Press Association that the introduction of AS-levels more than a decade ago "encouraged bright students to broaden their studies". After one year they would get feedback through their AS-level results on how they had done and could then choose whether to continue with all of their subjects, or focus on just some.

International AS and A-levels in 60 subjects are offered by Cambridge International Examinations. As with the A-level system, students can take international AS courses as qualifications in their own right, or as part of a full international A-level.

Bernard Trafford, head of the private Royal Grammar School in Newcastle, said independent schools have the freedom to choose the qualifications they want to offer.

"Whenever we are unhappy with a syllabus or exam we can quickly start to look around to see what else is out there. Why wouldn't we look at international A-levels?"

This is what private schools did when there were concerns over GCSEs, he said, and now many private schools use international GCSEs instead.

He said he does not think that many are near to moving toward international A-levels at the moment.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has already sounded a note of warning about the changes, saying the union was not convinced that AS-levels should be a separate qualification.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "By putting universities in charge of A-levels we are ensuring they match the world's best and prepare children for work and higher education.

"Linear A-levels will end the constant treadmill of exams and ensure pupils develop a real understanding of a subject."

Outlining his proposals in a letter to the exams regulator, Ofqual, Gove said that the AS-level is regarded as a valuable qualification.

"I have concluded that it should be retained, but that its design should be reconsidered in order to establish it as a high-quality standalone qualification," he added.

Click here to read the article © Guardian News & Media Ltd.