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A-level marked high on procedures and assessment

The A-level exam has been given a clean bill of health in a new report from the Office for Standards in Education.

The procedures were thorough, the assessment was reliable and the coursework was good. There had been no decline in standards in the three years from 1994.

However, the inspectors also found that there were no mechanisms for checking consistency over longer periods - a finding of the Standards over Time report late last year.

The inspectors examined A and AS-level examinations in English, German, mathematics, physics, geography, computing and Welsh as a first language.

The report was published as the Education and Employment Secretary, Gillian Shephard, launched a series of new regulations governing A-level. Chief among these was confirmation that the new AS-level, recommended by Sir Ron Dearing, would be introduced in time for the academic year starting in 1998.

This is seen by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority as an important way of gaining breadth in the curriculum, encouraging more students to do more subjects.

Mrs Shephard announced a consultation process aimed at reducing the total of exam boards and syllabuses - competition between the boards is blamed by some for a decline in standards.

She announced new limits on modular A-levels: students will only be able to re-sit a module once, and will not be able to re-sit the final module.

Mrs Shephard also launched the revised "core" elements of A-level subjects, many of them with increased proprtions of traditional material. Maths sees the introduction of calculator-free papers, more "proof", algebra and problem-solving; English sees more pre-19th-century authors; history students must choose some pre-20th century history and British history.

Speaking at the launch Mrs Shephard described the changes as the most radical since the launch of the A-level.

The Secondary Heads Association said that the cost of implementing the new AS-level and other parts of Sir Ron Dearing's 16-19 review would be Pounds 600 million a year. "We believe many students will be attracted to AS-level and will want to take more subjects than the traditional three," said John Sutton, SHA general secretary. "This will give a long overdue breadth, but will mean more lessons each week for more students."

The new rules announced this week have raised much concern in recent months. The speed of the changes to the core elements of A-level are a particular anxiety, with mathematicians complaining vigorously. Others are worried that reducing the number of syllabuses will restrict choice and innovation.

GCE Advanced Supplementary and Advanced Level Examinations 1996 is published by The Stationery Office, Pounds 5.95

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