Battle to save AS modular exams

Julie Henry

SCHOOLS and colleges have defended AS modular exams and have warned that they are not prepared to meet the cost of writing hundreds of replacement papers.

Education Secretary Estelle Morris has been accused of going too far in measures to sort out the AS shambles. She has told heads not to enter most lower sixth-formers for exams in January, four months after they start their first year of A-level. Instead students should be able to take a single three-hour exam in June or even defer exams until the end of the second year. This latter option would effectively mean a return to the traditional A-level approach.

Some schools and colleges say the move is an attack on the modular system and against the spirit of the AS-level reforms. Nick Goffin, principal of Gateway College, Leicester, said: "I support the premise of the reforms, which includes the need for bite-size units. The 'crisis' is not about modules, it is about implementation and planning by the exam boards."

Exam board chief executives held an emergency meeting this week as the implications of the Government's announcement sunk in.

Ms Morris wants schools to have the option of a single three-hour AS paper instead of three modules for each subject. But none of the AS modules, which have already been set, is an hour long. This means, as well as new three-hour papers, boards may have to rewrite all 600 AS modules, to ensure all pupils are assessed for the same amount of time.

The huge costs incurred could be passed on to schools and colleges, swelling already inflated exam bills. Russell Clark, deputy general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "We cannot take more costs because reforms were implemented badly."

The timing is also tight. Summer is the exam boards' busiest time so they cannot start work on the proposals till next term. Schools are unlikely to know which subjects will offer the new longer exams until well after the new year.

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Julie Henry

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