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AS-levels would return under Labour, pledges Tristram Hunt

Labour today pledged a “swift reversal” of the government’s unpopular decision to stop AS marks counting towards final A-level grades.

Tristram Hunt, shadow education secretary, told the NASUWT conference in Birmingham that Labour would not continue with the controversial policy of "decoupling" AS and A-level qualifications.

“When we assume office in May 2015, there will be a swift reversal of this policy and I am giving teachers and school leaders clear indication of that today,” he said.

But an exam board head told TES that the reversal would take years to achieve. That could mean even more disruption for teachers who are already facing at least five years of continuous exam revolution.

By the time the next general election is held schools and exam boards will already be on their final preparations for the major reforms needed to remove AS-levels from the A-level, turning it into a linear qualification.

Mr Hunt said he wanted to “end the relentless churn and party political tinkering with education policy”, but he told journalists that schools and exam boards should take a “twin-track approach”.

They should prepare for the possibility of a Labour government and the return of the AS-level, at the same time as they got ready for the qualification’s removal, he said.

The first new 13 A-levels are due to be introduced for first teaching in the classroom in September 2015 – just four months after the next general election.

Their structure and content – designed for linear, rather than modular qualifications – will have been consulted on and finalised, with teachers about to put it into practice if Labour take power.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the OCR exam board, warned that the process of making AS-levels an integral part of A-levels again would be a lengthy one.

“It is not as simple as ‘recoupling’ the AS-level,” he said. “It informs both the specification and the assessment itself. So we would have to go through a further process. We would need to sit down with the regulator and work out how to do that.”

He estimated it would take a minimum of six months of development work, followed by the time needed to get the qualifications accredited and a year to allow schools to prepare for their introduction.

Mr Hunt described the down-grading of the AS-level as “misguided, ill thought through and narrow-minded”.
“Universities value the AS-Level as a good indication of future potential,” he said. “Students value the examination as a good indication of their level. And schools value it as a spur to action for the more lackadaisical.”

Elite universities, classroom teacher and heads’ unions have all opposed its decoupling from the A-level.

Asked by TES what schools and exam boards should do now, knowing that it could be reversed, Mr Hunt said: “Schools beginning to think about teaching the new A-level will now, as a result of our announcement this morning, think along a twin-track approach that will allow for the recoupling for September 2015.

“All the colleges I have spoken to have suggested that it is not impossible to have a twin-track approach in terms of their planning for future examinations. We will be talking to exam boards about this. We think the argument is pretty compelling.” 

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