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More time to shine

A-levels overhauled for the benefit of the brightest pupils

LONGER A-level exams which give candidates more control over answers will allow the brightest star-rated A-graders to shine through, it was revealed this week.

Meanwhile the jury is still out on whether the Welsh baccalaureate should be graded to highlight the most outstanding students.

Arthur Parker, assistant director for curriculum at Welsh exam board the WJEC, suggested the new A* A-level would only be awarded to candidates scoring 90 per cent in the summer of 2010, when the first cohort would get the chance to clinch the most coveted grade.

But he also recognised the extra workload involved for teachers, who will need to familiarise themselves with the grading system and specifications.

"There isn't going to be a revolution in the types of question, just more opportunity for candidates to give extended responses," he said.

The new star-rating comes after years of record results at A-level, bringing with them claims that the questions are too easy. However, it is the answers, not the questions, that will make the difference under the revised examinations, according to exam officials.

"A lot of these changes hopefully aren't dramatic ones, the main ones are the absence of coursework from some subjects and its inclusion in other subjects," said Mr Parker.

Pupils will have to be prepared for longer exams because there are fewer units in each subject. The point is to reward people who have taken the units at the end of the course, testing understanding of the subject as a whole."

The new draft specifications and question papers for teaching ASA-level are available on the WJEC's website. Derec Stockley, the WJEC's director of examinations, said the exam board is expecting a positive response from recent consultation on the proposed curriculum changes coming into force next September.

Mr Stockley said teachers would be offered free in-service courses to support their understanding of the changes. However, he added that the A* would be an extra grade, with standards remaining unchanged.

Calls for the bac to be graded, after an almost glowing external evaluation report, and the announcement of its gradual roll-out last year, are still under discussion - nine months after the proposal for an overhaul were made. Heads, teachers and parents were unhappy that the qualification only awards a pass or fail grade, without any recognition for the brightest pupils.

Mr Stockley said the grading system at A-level had become increasingly transparent since the last changes in 2000.

Pupils and teachers can now see the percentages they achieved in each unit they sat and will be aware of the overall mark.

The number of units in each subject, apart from the sciences, Welsh and music, has also been slimmed down - from a total of six to two in the first year, and two in the second.

Geography will no longer have coursework, for example, while English literature pupils will have to take a coursework unit.

* The draft specifications are available at

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