January exams at centre of row with watchdog

Plans to scrap staggered A-level exams and limit resit opportunities have been branded “overzealous changes” that could “thwart” learning.

The Institute for Learning (IfL) hit out after exam watchdog Ofqual announced that from September next year students in England would no longer be able to sit papers in January, and from 2014 candidates would get just one resit per paper.

Toni Fazaeli, IfL chief executive, said it expressed “deep concern” the changes would have “equality implications”, when they were consulted by the exam regulator.

“Learners who miss periods of education through illness, disability, caring for a family member or other unfortunate events should not have their life chances diminished,” she said.

“We believe that teaching practitioners should have the professional freedom to make judgements about the appropriate times for their students — including the most able and those who need extra support — to be assessed.”

Ofqual made the announcements after publishing the results of a consultation on the subject.

The government said it believed there were “serious problems” with current exams, that they did not prepare pupils properly for university and that the fact they were taken “in chunks” over two years, with resits, had led to “grade inflation”.

It favoured instead exams being taken at the end of two years of study and wanted more input from universities. There were also concerns that an emphasis on frequent exams meant students could not study a subject in enough depth.

But Mrs Fazaeli said that for those taking A-levels as a route to employment or higher-level apprenticeships, for example in accountancy, the heavy emphasis on progression to full-time higher education was “not the whole picture”.

“We expressed our deep concern about the equality implications of these proposals not having been assessed properly, and that they could have a disproportionate negative impact on learners,” she said.

“Teachers and trainers in FE…should not be thwarted by overzealous changes to exam rules.”