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[personal profile] liv
As someone who teaches university undergrads, I've been asked for my opinion as part of Ofqual's consultation on A Level reform. And I figure this is a topic that exercises a lot of my friends, so have at it, express your opinions! (If you have some experience of English education this is probably going to be a lot more meaningful to you than otherwise, but hey, opinions are always good.)

The main proposals seem to be to get rid of modular A Levels and January exams, get rid of multiple resits until you get the mark you want, and shift the balance of assessment back to one-shot final exams including essay questions. And they want to do something about the AS / A2 split system that's been in place since 2002. The options are either:
  1. Keep the system more or less as is, but you can only resit your AS at the end of your second year, and can't resit A2 at all except by starting over the whole course.
  2. Keep AS exams as one-year qualifications covering the "easier" half of an A Level, but not have them be a partial step on the way to A2. I assume this means people would have to choose at sixth form entry whether they wanted to take a full A Level or an AS in each subject.
  3. Remove AS altogether as a qualification, and return to two-year A Levels as the only option, with the expectation that most students take 3 to 4 subjects. (The system that those of us oldsters who left school before 2002 remember!)
They also want to force exam boards to show evidence of detailed consultation with universities and other stakeholders about curriculum content and exam design, which seems to me like pretty much a no-brainer. The stated goal is to define A Levels explicitly as entry qualifications to higher ed, but they acknowledge that employers are going to care about A Level marks for school leavers. There's also something vague and handwavy to do with dropping subjects that don't lead to university courses and creating new subjects to meet demands, but I'm not quite sure what they have in mind for that.

My initial reaction is that this seems like basically a good idea. It's a complete waste of time and effort for sixth formers to take four or more sets of high stakes public exams in a two year course, I'd much rather they spent the bulk of that time learning! I am suspicious of modular A Levels with unlimited resits, both in general as an opinionated person and as an educator who has to train far too many students out of the cram and dump learning style. In general I think current A Levels encourage way too much teaching to the test, and allow well-resourced schools to game the system so that nearly all their pupils get As and A*s without actually grasping their subjects well.

However it also has Michael Gove's "return to traditional standards" fingerprints all over it. I know a lot of my friends are much more anti-Tory than I am, (and I have very limited respect for Gove myself) so I would welcome your perspectives. I suspect this is a lot of populist fiddling which may make for supportive headlines in the right-wing media, but won't actually change the important things that are wrong with current education or address major inequalities. There are lots of reforms that I'd like to see that would go way beyond simply scrapping modular A Levels. But the return to linear A Levels is what we're being offered, so I'm trying to make up my mind whether it's a good thing on balance or not. The consultation, like me, is interested in equality issues; I'm aware that a key argument against weighting heavily towards final exams is that they disadvantage girls compared to boys, and also discriminate against people with certain types of learning difficulties and people with variable chronic conditions who may have to take the exam on a bad pain or brain fog day.

So, what do you think? Is a linear course primarily assessed by final exam a good or a bad thing? Should AS qualifications be scrapped or demoted from their half A Level status? Which A Level subjects should be mercifully retired, and which new ones should replace them? This is probably less important than the marriage equality consultation, but it's somewhere where I have a tiny amount of influence, and you're very welcome to try to persuade me to your view.
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