Headteachers join Russell Group in opposing AS level reform plans


School and college leaders have joined the Russell Group in their opposition to plans to make the AS level a standalone qualification.

School and college leaders have joined the Russell Group in their opposition to plans to make the AS level a standalone qualification.

In a letter to exams regulator Ofqual, education secretary Michael Gove last week confirmed his intention for the AS to be “entirely decoupled” from the A level by 2015.

It will mean that students must choose between a standalone one-year AS or a two-year A level. In his letter to Ofqual’s chief executive Glenys Stacey, Mr Gove wrote: “We should clarify that an AS is a qualification in its own right, so performance in an AS will not count towards an ?A level.”

However, the letter sparked school and college leaders, from both the independent and state sectors, to write an open letter objecting to the move. It states: “The removal of the AS as a stepping-stone may well reduce the take-up of subjects which are regarded as significantly harder at A level than at GCSE, including maths and modern languages”.

The letter is signed by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, the Association of School and College Leaders, the National Association of Head Teachers, and the Association of Colleges. It adds: “Without validation at the stepping-stone point, less confident students are likely to be discouraged from embarking on A levels in the first place.

“We are likely to see a return to the worst aspects of A level prior to 2000 when the year 12 and 13 curriculum was narrower; and a significant number of students committed to a two-year programme yet came away with nothing to show for it at the end of year 13.”

Currently, most students take four AS levels in their first year, leading on to full A levels in three of the subjects in year two. 

Last month, the Russell Group of universities also expressed its fear that the move would hit breadth of study.

Speaking last month, Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said that the AS level “adds valuable breadth and flexibility to (students’) learning programmes, and can encourage the take-up of strategically important subjects”.

She added: “We are not convinced that a new standalone AS qualification is necessary and are concerned that with no links to the A level, it may not deliver the same benefits as the existing AS levels.”

The University of Cambridge has previously said that the move would hit fair access, as AS results at the end of year 12 are the “most reliable indicator available” of an applicant’s potential to do well at university.

Speaking in January, a university spokesman told SecEd: “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.”

Elsewhere in his letter, Mr Gove admitted his original ambition to reform A levels by September 2014 was “ambitious” and agreed that first teaching should be set for September 2015. 

A levels are being changed into linear qualifications and Mr Gove said he wants to see the Russell Group’s “facilitating subjects” reformed first, except languages.

This means Ofqual will focus on revising maths, English Literature, the sciences, geography and history. 

Mr Gove added: “I would like your advice on how many of the limited number of other subjects that are studied by a high number of students could also be reformed for 2015.”

He also instructed Ofqual to “draw on the advice” of the Russell Group’s subject panels which are being formed to advise on subject content in the facilitating subjects.


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