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AS content fails to hit the mark

Publicity over the AS-level fiasco (TES, June 15) has focused on the tribulations of staff and students as we drown in a sea of external examinations. But the new, two-tier A-level has many other flaws, among which the following have risen to the top of my pile this year.

AS is not a one-year course, it is a two-term (and a bit) course. In terms of time, it is not "half" an A-level, it is 40 per cent of one at best. Yet the course content does not usually reflect this. Indeed, in several cases, this has equated to something approaching 60 to 65 per cent of the "legacy" course. And, of course, AS students do not have a summer holiday for extended reading around their subject.

It is claimed that concepts are assessed less rigorously at AS than at A2. Alas, this theoretical ideal has not held water in practice. The fact tha a subject element is programmed at AS rather than A2 does not always mean it can be taught to a more basic level. A concept per se cannot often be simplified, even if the testing can. I have found that, in their rush to cobble together a QCA-friendly specification, some boards introduced AS courses with content that is anything but "lower tier" in nature.

The greatest casualty of all has been the abolition of maturing time. Happy indeed is the school that still has time to help its Year 12 students acquire transitional skills to develop the intellect and foster academic independence. Exam factories may feed the league tables, but they do nothing to nourish the brain.

Mark Valencia

Head of Sixth Form

Southend High School for Boys

Prittlewell Chase

Southend-on-Sea, Essex


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