An advanced-level agenda

Tes Editorial

Sir Ron's interim report maps out how academic and vocational paths could be developed for 16 to 19-year-olds.



"A searching review of the rigour of A-levels should consider what steps may be needed in the light of the research commissioned by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority which suggests that standards may vary across subjects.

"It should consider whether syllabuses should make the required outcomes more explicit as vocational qualifications do and seek advice on changes in standards over time in a limited number of subjects.

"There is a need to consider whether a reduction in the number of AS and A-level syllabuses would contribute to the maintenance of uniform standards. Further research should be commissioned to establish whether modular A-levels are as demanding as conventional A-levels.

"It is necessary to consider the adequacy of assessment in modular A-levels, and to ask whether this should be extended to conventional terminal examinations.

"Particular concerns were expressed in stage one of the review about the levels of achievement in physical sciences and maths, and the declining proportion of students specialising in these subjects.

GNVQs and NVQs

"The review should take account of the findings of the major reviews being carried out by the National Council for Vocational Qualifications into: progression in NVQs, the top 100 NVQs, the three-year review of all NVQs and GNVQ assessment.

"It should consider whether external tests and centrally set and marked assignments should be extended from the Part One GNVQ (for 14 to 16-year-olds) to the full GNVQ at all three levels.

"It must explore whether GNVQs should include "synoptic assessment" to ensure that students understand the connections between the separate units which make up the GNVQ.

"The review will investigate the merits of external assessment in the 'NVQ Part One', in the light of the NCVQ's current research into progression in NVQs and monitor developments in streamlining GNVQ assessment.

Meeting the needs of all "The aim should be to develop ways of making the qualifications framework flexible enough to allow young people to progress at different speeds towards the national targets. It should be able to accommodate both the most able and those who are progressing more slowly. In particular, the review should pursue a policy of equal opportunities, look into areas where entry is unbalanced between males and females.

"It should consider how to accredit small steps in achievement by people with special educational needs and look at low achievers and identify good practice in motivating and raising achievement of the group between 14 and 19.

"Schemes such as youth training, modern apprenticeships and accelerated modern apprenticeships should also be monitored.

"A means of recognising outstanding achievement by the most able should also be explored, possibly through S-level papers, including a programme analogous to the theory of knowledge in the international baccalaureate, through the study of modules of university courses or level 4 units in vocational qualifications.


"In response to the questions by Gillian Shephard, the Education and Employment Secretary, as to breadth and core skills, the review should examine the case for the core skills which are mandatory in GNVQs (communication, number, and information technology) to be adopted more widely post-16.

"There is a need to consider whether, and if so how, other core skills valued by employers should also be adopted more widely and how achievement might be encouraged, assessed and accredited.

"The review must keep in touch with developments in Scotland, where core skills in five areas will be mandatory from 1997.

"In response to many recommendations made at stage one, the stage two review should consider the case for reformulating the present AS-level examination, so that instead of covering half an A-level syllabus in depth, it would cover the syllabus content in the breadth and depth appropriate for one year's study.


"The recent decision to merge the Departments for Education and Employment, and the interest shown by some academic and vocational awarding bodies in exploring forms of association, both make the consideration of further ways of giving coherence to the framework of qualifications highly opportune.

"The NCVQ and SCAA could consider establishing a joint committee, answerable to both bodies, to act jointly in the development and oversight of advanced level qualifications. In the longer term, the Government might wish to consider merging the NCVQ and SCAA, or consider bringing both into a single qualifications authority. Such a body would need to provide a central role for employers in developing and accrediting vocational qualifications.

"The review should build on initiatives already taken by several academic and vocational awarding bodies in exploring forms of co-operation or association to develop rigorous cost-effective systems of assessment, rationalise the provision of qualifications and promote coherence and comprehensibility.

"In the interests of the most cost-effective and coherent development of post-16 education and training, the review should liaise with the newly-formed DFEE, the Welsh Office and the Department of Education for Northern Ireland (DENI) on funding arrangements for 16-19 education and training; "It should monitor the potential of new technology, including information superhighways, for cost-effective delivery and support of teaching, learning and assessment.

"This is an extensive agenda. The eventual proposals must lead to a framework that is more comprehensible to young people, to their parents, and to employers."

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