The Changing Curriculum - An A* in language A-levels - with no literature studies

Ministers' claims that the new exam specifications will stretch teenagers are called into question

A-level modern language students will be able to gain an A* in courses beginning next month without having to study a single word of literature.

In English, the students are likely to be examined on material familiar to them from key stage 3 and GCSE study, including Macbeth and Frankenstein. And one exam board is highlighting that it has removed content from AS science papers to give students the ability to take the exams within the first few months of starting their courses.

A TES analysis of new exam specifications in science, English, languages and history calls into question ministers' claims that with the introduction of the A* grade, they will be more stretching.

More unstructured questions are promised, with a greater emphasis on essay-writing. However, the near absence of novels and poetry in the new language A-levels is one of several changes that critics say will help make the exams more straightforward.

Last year, The TES revealed that the amount of original verse or prose that students will have to study for Latin and classical Greek A-level has been cut by a quarter.

This prompted members of the Joint Association of Classical Teachers to warn that students could memorise a translation of the shorter passages and regurgitate it.

This year's OCR French A-level, which will be examined for the last time next summer, included a paper on culture and society, with questions on work by authors including Moliere, Camus and Duras. The paper has been dropped from the new exam, and there are no literature questions.

AQA's current exam also featured questions on set texts by Camus, Moliere and Troyat.

There are no set texts in the new specification, although students have the choice of answering a question on an author or poet of their choice. They could, though, choose to write instead about a topic such as a French region or a period of French history.

Edexcel's new course also gives students the chance to answer a question on literature, although they do not have to. OCR, in a document summarising changes to its A-levels in physics, biology and chemistry, reports that AS content in all three has been reduced "to allow centres maximum opportunity to enter candidates in January".

This move will be controversial. The head of one school which is entering the new Cambridge Pre-U exam in some subjects as an alternative to A- levels, said the new A-levels were dumbed down and encouraged a culture of continuous examination.

Tim Moore-Bridger, head of King Edward VI grammar school, in Stratford- upon-Avon, said students were already sitting up to 14 exams in year 12 and the new specifications encouraged this trend

John Gallagher, head of English at another school in the town, Stratford- upon-Avon Grammar School for Girls, questioned whether the new English A- levels would be more stretching. In an article for The TES , he criticises the demise of the Advanced Extension Award (AEA), the toughest challenge facing pupils, from next year. The A-levels, supposed to make the AEA redundant, would not stretch teenagers in the same way, he said.

- What do you think about the new specifications?

warwick.mansell@tes.co.uk.

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