28/01/2013

‘A’ Question of reform…?

The future.  The future of Britain’s relationship with Europe and the future of our post-16 examination system have been perhaps the two key talking points in the news over the last week.  Despite my background in Modern History, I’ll confine myself to commentary on what I really feel qualified to offer an opinion on.  And it’s not the former!

My observations come from the perspective of both a Headteacher and former Principal Examiner. Many of us in education would agree that the current system needs tweaking and there is no aversion to change where it is genuinely needed. However, there is also a strong consensus across the teaching profession, academics, employers and universities that, at post-16 at least, the AS - A Level examination structure is still broadly fit for purpose.The argument that  A levels are not currently preparing students adequately for university would seem to be contradicted by the fact that one in six now go on to achieve a first class honours degree - a three fold increase over the last 13 years.

There is no suggestion that Higher Education is diluting its standards to account for this improvement in student performance.
The real  concern is that the proposal to return to an 'all or nothing, exam at the end of two year will limit breadth of learning and student choice.  There is no suggestion that exams should not be rigorous, and I certainly don't support a continual 're-sit culture' which can lower aspirations and blur focus. But the current link between AS and A level has real advantages. AS provides an opportunity for students to take a fourth subject and decide at the end of year 12 which three to specialise in. It also offers a perfectly legitimate and accredited exit route for those wanting enter the workplace after a further year of study. Interestingly, the vast majority of university courses are modular rather that a single, end-of-course exam. Again, there is no suggestion that these are unfit for purpose or lack challenge and progression. As a History examiner, I felt from their introduction that AS papers offered a different challenge to A Level.  Different, with a focus on different skills, but not easier.

Obviously if the proposals, which have now been put back to 2015 do go through as currently configured, all of us at Park House will ensure that our students are superbly prepared for the new structure. We do however hope that the question of what A Level reform finally looks like will continue to be debated.  In the true tradition of A Level questions, 'Discuss...!'

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