Tuesday 3 April 2012

Gove Wants Universities to Set A-Level Exams

GCE Advanced Level logo by University of Cambr...
A-Level logo by University of Cambridge International Examinations (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Education secretary Michael Gove is talking again.

He has made pronouncements on the A-Level system before, alluding to his dislike of modular examinations and stating that the overall standard was not high enough.

Now, there appears to be some flesh on the bones. In a letter to Ofqual, Mr Gove has outlined his plans that the universities should have a greater role in setting the A-Level exams.

It should be noted that these changes will only apply in England in the first instance; it will affect Northern Ireland and Wales insofar as some pupils study towards the exams of the English boards. Scotland will be largely unaffected.

Currently all A-Level curricula are designed carefully, with knowledge of what came before. Any topic studied at A-Level, without the correct groundwork at GCSE, is going to present problems. Without the correct pre-requisite understanding, such teaching could damage confidence and reduce learning, not improve it. Universities will need to employ a whole new cohort of specialists who understand the school curriculum, as well as what is required in a variety of university courses.

This would not simply be a change to our A-Levels. If Gove's plans come through, more demanding A-Levels will require better prepared pupils as they make that transition from GCSE. And this means, in turn, that those pupils will need to be better prepared for GCSEs. Such a shake-up will have implications for the whole of secondary education.

Allowing universities to have a greater input in post-16 exams is a good idea in principle, since the universities can see that a lot of their students are arriving without the necessary skills and understanding. The universities understand what is required.

But this is an enormous change and it will be painful. There will be jobs lost, new jobs created; there will be some pupils caught in the transition who will, no doubt, suffer. There will be changes to teaching methods (perhaps universities will want to have a say in these as well?) and disquiet in the teaching profession. There will be upheaval on a grand scale. And if put in motion, the changes will be too large to be rolled back by any future government. If you are due to sit A-Levels in 2016, life suddenly looks rather different.

Again, it is a case of: be careful what you wish for.

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