Universities to set A-levels

Later addition: see the letter from Michael Gove  and response from Glenys Stacey. A key phrase in Gove’s letter:

Different subjects have different requirements; I am interested in your views as to how the system should develop to allow for approaches to — for example — mathematics that provide for differential level of challenge.

From the Glenys Stacey’s response:

Making sure that A levels are fit for purpose means getting four things right: subject content (curriculum), teaching, assessment and level of demand. We would look to universities, working with learned societies and awarding organisations, to agree the subject content of A levels. Ofqual would be happy to work with whatever arrangements are put in place to do this, provided that they enable universities to develop high quality content. We will want to be sure that respected university departments and learned societies support the content defined for each new A level. Content will vary to some extent between different A levels in the same subject, but we would want to see all A levels being widely accepted. So even if a particular A level is developed by a small group of universities, we would want to see a significant number of key universities signed up to it. We will look to the university sector to put in place sensible arrangements for this as soon as possible.

From BBC:

The Russell Group of leading universities said they were “certainly willing to give as much time as we can into giving advice to the exam boards”.

But Wendy Piatt, the group’s director general, cautioned: “We don’t actually have much time and resource spare to spend a lot of time in reforming A levels.”

From The Guardian:

Mark Fuller, director of communications of the 1994 Group, which represents small, research-intensive universities, said it was “absolutely right that leading universities and academics have an influence on A-level qualifications alongside others, including employers”.

He said: “This influence must not be restricted to any single group of institutions which, by definition provide higher education only for a minority of 18-year-olds. Universities and employers need A-levels which are robust, fit for purpose and which recognise academic excellence. This excellence is widely distributed across the UK’s higher education sector.”


Some earlier stuff, from The Guardian:

Education secretary Michael Gove has asked the top universities to set A-level exams, amid fears that tens of thousands of teenagers are woefully under-prepared when they start their degrees.

Gove has instructed the exam boards and ministers to “take a step back” from dictating the content of A-levels and hand over the power to academics. At present, the Department for Education sets out the structure and core knowledge A-level students need to know, and exam boards devise the questions and coursework. Gove has written to the qualifications watchdog, Ofqual, asking for universities to be allowed to “drive the system”.

The same story in The Telegraph, on BBC.

4 thoughts on “Universities to set A-levels

  1. “Universities and employers need A-levels which are ROBUST, FIT FOR PURPOSE and which recognise academic EXCELLENCE.”

    Mmm. Yes, right on. SPOT the terms which are vague, unclear and will be interpreted by X to mean whatever X wants them to mean.

  2. Some people talk as if the chief purpose of A-levels is to supply Russell-group universities, for free, with the information they need to identify the best-prepared teenagers. People who think they have a right to this information for free are not going to put any resource into the considerable task of designing curricula.
    Some commentators, like Fuller, point out that students do all sorts of things after their A-levels and we might hope that A-levels would prepare them for whatever they do next. I haven’t heard anyone yet suggest that A-levels might have some intrinsic educational value.

    • From an article by Mike Baker in The Guardian,
      A-level reforms: a good idea, badly presented:

      Time, money and reputation are all potential incentives for academics to get involved in shaping A-levels. But will vice-chancellors, now keenly aware of their fee-paying undergraduates as “consumers”, offer time off, financial rewards and career enhancement to encourage staff to neglect research and teaching in order to serve a more nebulous wider public interest? As a spokeswoman for the Russell Group of universities cautioned: “We don’t actually have much time and resource spare to spend a lot of time in reforming A-levels.”

      Or is the government expecting exam boards to pay academics for this work? That would mean costs being passed on to schools in the form of higher exam fees. That wasn’t mentioned. Or will the government pay? If so, has Mr Gove cleared this with the Chancellor?

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