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Sector responds to proposed A Level changes

Earlier this week Education Secretary Michael Gove outlined proposed changes to A Levels in a letter to exam regulator Ofqual. The changes would bring to an end modular A Levels and return to two-year exam based assessments. They would also see top universities playing a role in maintaining standards.

Below is a selection of responses to the plans from leaders in the education sector.

Toni Fazaeli, chief executive of the Institute for Learning (IfL), said: “We are concerned about the government’s proposals to press ahead with reforms that remove the freedom for professional teachers to exercise their judgement about the most appropriate form of assessment for their learners, which will differ by subject. IfL also fears that exams at the end of two years, without modular assessment or the ability to retake assessments, will narrow participation at A level; have a damaging effect on learner retention and achievement; and potentially have a disproportionate negative impact on protected groups of learners, as well as many adults taking A levels who have been out of education for a long time and may have had negative experiences.

“While IfL absolutely supports A levels having rigorous standards, the proposed changes seem to bring an unhelpful conflation of keeping rigour with being rigid. As we said in our formal response to Ofqual’s consultation, based on the views of our members, the heavy emphasis on progression to full-time higher education tells only part of the story – what about those taking A levels as a route to employment or higher-level apprenticeships? What about adult learners and part-time 16 to 19-year-old learners, many of whom will be paying the full cost of their tuition and taking out loans? And what flexibility will there be for those who have missed periods of education through difficult circumstances – illness, disability or caring for a family member?

“The ability of teachers and trainers in further education and skills to transform lives and develop the skills this nation needs through high-quality teaching and learning should not be undermined by an overly rigid A-level system.”

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers & Lecturers (ATL), said: “De-coupling AS levels from A-levels will reduce opportunities for many young people, will end the current progress check AS levels provide and mean that young people are likely to study fewer subjects at sixth-form. Young people need the chance to show what they’ve learnt – these new exam proposals won’t let them do that.

“Michael Gove misses the point that only a very elite group of students benefited from an intensive regime that determined their future on the results of one set of exams. Currently A-levels enable students from a broader range of backgrounds to gain good qualifications and access a wide range of career options.

“ATL is not convinced that universities have the capacity to develop AS and A-levels, and it would be a mistake not to utilise the considerable knowledge and expertise in schools, colleges and with employers to develop new AS/A-levels. There needs to be a proper, considered review of both the curriculum and qualifications which takes account of the practicalities of managing and delivering such wide-scale reform.

“We believe the proposed timescale is far too short to implement such a large scale reform of A-levels and also ensure that the exams are fit for purpose. The government is making too many changes at once, to both GCSEs and A-levels, and this raft of reforms introduced over such a short timescale is a recipe for disaster for young people and teachers.”

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Toni Pearce, deputy president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said: “This throwback to the 1950s is dogmatic and ideological policy-making at its very worst. It is unsurprising that the Education Secretary’s proposals are opposed by teachers, universities and students.

“There is no good reason why a small group of universities should be put in the uniquely privileged position of engineering exams that must cater for a wide variety of learners and foster a wide diversity of routes to study and work.

“The examination systems of the future will increasingly require flexibility and not the linear past its sell-by date approach proposed by Mr Gove today. The Education Secretary’s apparent mission to rage against the modern world appears to continue unabated, but it is young people who are set to lose out as a result of his self-indulgence.”

Neil Carberry, CBI director of employment and skills, said: “Businesses want more rigorous exams but we’re concerned that these changes aren’t being linked up with other reforms, especially to GCSEs.

“We need a more coherent overall system. That means one with higher expectations; stronger technical education; English and maths compulsory until 18; and new demanding, vocational A-levels, as well as in more traditional subjects.

“Scrapping modules and removing AS-levels will go some way to ending the exam treadmill but we are concerned that universities will have sole oversight of the new qualifications.

“A-levels are no longer simply a passport to a degree but also secure entry to higher apprenticeships and other ‘learn while you earn’ jobs. Businesses must be involved in drawing up new syllabuses and qualifications where relevant, so they meet the needs of the workplace.”

Natalie Thornhill

(Pictured: Education Secretary Michael Gove)

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