Critics hit out at A-level reform plans

FE groups across the sector have condemned education secretary Michael Gove’s proposal to overhaul A-levels.

Mr Gove said from 2015 pupils will take exams at the end of two-year courses with AS-levels remaining but as stand-alone exams. A group of leading universities will play a bigger role in maintaining standards.

But various teaching associations and unions have rejected his proposals, with the University and College Union (UCU) saying it “entrenched elitism” into the education system making A levels “simply about university entrance”.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “In the absence of good alternative qualifications young people will feel they have to continue with A-levels and many will fail.

“The secretary of state appears driven to replicate his own schooldays for all. While that era and set of qualifications may have suited him very well, they will not satisfy the varied needs of today’s pupils.”

Motivations for the move emerged in a letter to exam regulator Ofqual. Mr Gove said A-levels in their current form did not help students to develop a “deep understanding” of their subjects. Instead modular units will be scrapped, with the qualification returning to exams taken at the end of a two-year course.

Julian Gravatt, assistant chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said in FE and sixth form colleges there was “overwhelming support” for the retention of an AS/A2 structure because of the role that AS levels have in “bridging the gap” from GCSEs and in informing university admissions officers and employers.

The Department for Education has given Ofqual and awarding organisations an extra year to develop the new A-level qualifications but AoC said they were “concerned” that there appeared to be a plan to introduce new subjects in stages which “will cause confusion for students” starting sixth form in 2015.

Mr Gravatt added: “There is a question of whether the department will be providing sufficient funding to enable schools and colleges to teach a broader, harder set of qualifications.”

Toni Fazaeli, chief executive of The Institute for Learning (IfL) said: “We are concerned about reforms that remove the freedom for professional teachers to exercise their judgement about the most appropriate form of assessment for their learners, which will differ by subject.”

IfL also said they feared exams at the end of two years, without modular assessment or the ability to retake assessments, would “narrow participation” at A level and have a “damaging effect” on learner retention and achievement.

“What flexibility will there be for those who have missed periods of education through difficult circumstances – illness, disability or caring for a family member?”

Brian Lightman of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said: “This is a classic case of fixing something that isn’t broken.”

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers & Lecturers (ATL), said: “Michael Gove misses the point that only a very elite group of students benefited from an intensive regime that determined their future on the results of one set of exams.”