Published on 9 Nov 2012 Sections

January exams scrapped in A-level reform

A-level students will only be able to sit exams in the summer, meaning the number of re-sits will be capped, under the first stage of Ofqual’s A-level reforms.

January exams scrapped in A-level reform (G)

Ofqual said the move would address concerns over how many times students can sit exams and fears of grade inflation, by cutting the number of re-sit opportunities.

The decision comes following a three-month consultation into A-level reform, and further changes are expected to include more university involvement in the qualifications and altering the structure of the exams.

“There were also concerns expressed by teachers, employers and universities over what they term a re-sit culture,” Chief Regulator Glenys Stacey said about the consultation.

“Teachers in particular said that A-level students approach examinations with the expectation that they will always get a second chance. Making improvements in these key areas is what this first phase is about and it has been widely welcomed by higher education and by many schools and colleges.”

Ofqual’s open consultation into A-level reform ran for three months earlier this year and just fewer than 1,000 respondents took part.

Read more: How ‘tax-free’ exam boards profit as schools pay more

Students disadvantaged?

However some teachers said there was no clear evidence to suggest that the current A-levels needed reform. They also expressed concern that the plans might impact young people who are forced into missing periods of school through no fault of their own – for example long-term illness, disability or acting as a carer.

“Re-sits makes it easier for them to pick up their studies after an enforced absence and to return to a topic at a later date,” said Jill Stokoe, education policy adviser at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union said: “These plans are not based, as Michael Gove continues to claim, on any concern in the higher education sector of failings in the A-level system, nor on any international data, all of which shows that A-levels continue to perform well against other comparable qualifications globally.”

The low down:
– The A-level certificate is made up of an AS-level exam, usually taken after one year of the course, and an A2 paper, taken in the second year of study.
– Students can currently opt to take either exam in January and can repeatedly re-sit exams.
– Although the changes will not take place until September 2013, they will affect pupils who began their A-level course this September, as they will no longer be able to take January exams in their second year.
– The consultation also considered three proposals for the future of AS-levels, one of which was to scrap the qualification altogether, which would have a big impact on when students pick their subject options.

Pam Tatlow, chief executive of university think-tank, million+, said that students were the “losers” in the decision to remove the option to sit exams in January.

“The government’s plans to reform A-levels have clearly run into troubled waters, with a very limited set of reforms from the exam regulator Ofqual along with proposals for further consultation,” she added.

“Ofqual has already concluded that A-levels are broadly fit for purpose and universities have rejected the proposal that they ‘sign off’ each A-level subject for the different exam boards and there is no good reason to resurrect it.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman insisted that academics at leading universities are concerned that there are problems with A-levels. “That is why we embarked on a reform of A-levels, and today’s report underlines why we were absolutely right to have done so,” she said.

Read more: Top A-level grades fall for first time in 21 years

University involvement

The proposed reforms come amid concerns that A-levels are failing to prepare teenagers for higher education. The consultation found support for more university engagement, but not for universities “endorsing” each A-level.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said earlier this year that he intends to give universities, particularly the most elite institutions “a far greater role” in designing A-levels in the future.

But an Ofqual analysis of the responses to their consultation found an overall sense among universities and higher education groups that it would not be “advisable or operationally feasible” for the sector to take control of the exams.

Ofqual added that there were concerns about the proposed timetable, which would see the first new A-level courses introduced for teaching in 2014 in some priority subjects.

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