A-level reform only adds to confusion

Julie Henry

'We don't know what we should be teaching now,' say schools. Julie Henry reports

GOVERNMENT changes to the new AS-level system could cut the burden of exams papers in sixth forms. But schools say they are now confused about what to teach from this September.

Education Secretary Estelle Morris said this week that 17-year-olds will be able to sit a single test of up to three hours in most subjects, rather than three short papers. January exams will only be available for a minority of students and fewer pupils will have to do key skills qualifications.

The changes are based on a Qualifications and Curriculum Authority inquiry into A-level reforms, ordered by the Government after a flood of complaints about the implementation of AS-levels.

Ms Morris admitted that their introduction had been a shambles and students had faced too many exam papers.

At present, the AS-level qualification is made up of three modules which are tested in three different papers. Students can sit papers in January and June.

Creating one paper would mean schools which were preparing to enter students for a unit in the New Year will have to think again.

It is also unclear whether students who sit one paper in summer will be allowed to resit individual modules.

Bob Eden, vice-principal of Colchester sixth-form college, where there were hundreds of exam clashes this summer, said: "We are cautiously optimistic but a bit puzzled. A three-hour paper would cut down on exam administration. But will students sit three separate papers in one go or a completely new three-hour exam which may change the syllabus.?" Tony Neal, head of De Aston school, Lincolnshire, welcomed the simplification of the assessment system, but said schools which had taken a modular approach would have to rewrite their timetables.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "This will complicate things even more, with schools expected to offer modular and single exam courses. I don't see how it will slim things down."

In a climbdown on key skills qualifications, Ms Morris said they would not apply to students with good GCSE passes in English, maths and information technology, or those who are studying the subjects at AS-level.

Schools which have already planned key skills into their timetable are now unsure whether to teach them in September.

QCA guidance on what the changes will mean to schools will go out during the next few weeks. Chief executive David Hargreaves will report back to ministers in September. A more detailed report on A-level reforms will be submitted in December.

Platform, 21

See www.qca.org.uk

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Julie Henry

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