Bid to break AS link to A level sparks concern among headteachers and universities


Headteachers have accused the Department for Education of “fixing something that isn’t broken” after more details of planned A level reforms came to light.

Headteachers have accused the Department for Education of “fixing something that isn’t broken” after more details of planned A level reforms came to light.

The University of Cambridge has also criticised the proposals, saying they would “jeopardise over a decade’s progress towards fairer access”.

Education secretary Michael Gove confirmed his plans for A level reform last week in a letter to exams regulator Ofqual.

As with his GCSE reforms, the plans will see examinations taken only at the end of the two years of study. The link between AS level and A level is also to be broken, with the AS becoming a standalone qualification taken at the end of year 13.

In his letter, Mr Gove said that he wanted A levels to better prepare students for university education: “Many leading universities are concerned about current A levels and nearly three-quarters of lecturers say that they have had to adapt their teaching approaches for under-prepared first year undergraduates.

“Moving to a linear A level assessed at the end of two years will address the issues of modularity and resits leading to grade inflation.”

However, the Association of School and College Leaders pointed out that most university courses are modular and said that an “all or nothing exam” could see the numbers going on to university fall.

General secretary Brian Lightman said: “This is a classic case of ‘fixing’ something that isn’t broken. The argument that 

A levels are not preparing students adequately for university is contradicted by the fact that one in six achieve first class honours – a three-fold increase over the last 13 years.”

Mr Lightman added that more rigorous material could be included in A levels without the need to alter the existing structure.

The University of Cambridge also spoke out this week, claiming that AS results at the end of year 12 were the “most reliable indicator available” of an applicant’s potential to do well.

A spokesman said: “The University of Cambridge opposes the deletion of AS examinations at the end of year 12. This change is unnecessary and, if implemented, will jeopardise over a decade’s progress towards fairer access to the University of Cambridge.

“Using (AS levels) in our admissions process has enabled us recently to achieve the highest levels of state-sector participation in the university in over 30 years.

“Year 12 results are especially useful in giving talented students from low-participation backgrounds the confidence to apply to highly selective universities.

“A level remains a good preparation for study at Cambridge. Further improving the examination in no way requires the removal of year 12 examinations. We greatly fear the negative impact such a removal would have on widening participation – and urge the secretary of state to change this decision.”

A spokesperson for exam board AQA added: “We are disappointed that (AS level) will become a standalone qualification, and the benefits it has provided in supporting progression and the study of a broader curriculum may be lost.”

Elsewhere in his letter, Mr Gove confirmed that universities will be more involved in drawing up the new A level courses. He wants to see the changes implemented for September 2015.



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