January exams axed as part of A level reforms ― with more changes on the way


Concerns have been raised about the timescale and impact of reforms to A level examinations. It comes as the exams watchdog confirmed plans to ban A level and AS level students from sitting exams in January ― the first of a raft of A level reforms

Concerns have been raised about the timescale and impact of reforms to A level examinations.

From September 2013, students starting their courses will no longer be allowed to sit A level or AS level exams in January – with all tests taking place in the summer.

Exams regulator Ofqual made the announcement after publishing the findings of a three-month consultation into A level reform. It says the move will also reduce re-sit opportunities. 

Chief regulator, Glenys Stacey, said: “There were concerns expressed by teachers, employers and universities over what they term a re-sit culture. Teachers in particular said that A level students approach examinations with the expectation that they will always get a second chance.”

Other reforms being considered and to be announced in due course include increasing the involvement of higher education in A level design and changes to the structure of A levels.

The consultation results supported higher education involvement, but showed less enthusiasm for allowing universities to “endorse” each
A level’s design. There was also support for increasing synoptic assessment and reducing internal assessment.

Awarding bodies, school leaders and teachers are worried about the impact of the move to summer-only examinations.

A statement from Pearson, which owns exam board Edexcel, welcomed the move to synoptic testing and engagement with universities. 

However, it added: “We need to ensure no learners are left behind as we seek to raise standards, which is why we have suggested that the retention of a re-sit opportunity earlier in the year may be needed to support those seeking grades for university entry.”

Andrew Hall, chief executive of AQA, welcomed the removal of the January exam series, but emphasised that “everyone should be entitled to re-sit an exam”.

He added: “We believe that the issue of timescales for the implementation of A level reforms and the method of engagement with universities should be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

School leaders warned about tinkering too much with specifications without first modelling the potential impact.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We want to be assured that students being awarded AS in summer 2014 and A level in summer 2015 can have confidence that their individual results will be comparable with those of previous years.”

He continued: “On the wider issue of A level structure and content and the involvement of higher education, we also remain concerned about proposed timescales and we urge those involved to ensure that there is sufficient development time.”

The National Union of Teachers echoed these concerns, while the Association of Teachers and Lecturers warned about the impact of reducing re-sit opportunities on disadvantaged pupils.

Jill Stokoe, the union’s education policy advisor, said: “While there are arguments in favour of end-of-study assessment, Ofqual must be careful not to diminish the life chances of the most disadvantaged pupils. We believe that the current opportunities for re-sits should be retained for those candidates that need them.”

For more information, visit www.ofqual.gov.uk/qualifications-and-assessments/qualification-reform/a-level-reform/


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