Exam chief calls for cuts

5th March 2004 at 00:00
Ken Boston responds to concerns that sixth-formers have been overburdened. Warwick Mansell reports

The number of A-level and AS-exams should be cut by a third within four years, Ken Boston, head of the Government's exam watchdog said this week.

If Dr Boston's proposals go ahead sixth-formers' exam time would be reduced by six hours by 2008.

The chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority told a London conference that course content would remain the same, but the number of exams would be cut from six to four.

A-levels would still be taught in six modules but individual exam papers would cover more than one module.

Teachers, parents and pupils have protested about the assessment load since AS-level and A2 exams were introduced in 2000.

The changes, which have yet to be approved by ministers, are an immediate response to calls from Mike Tomlinson's taskforce on 14 to 19 education to cut schools' assessment burden.

Dr Boston also said that:

* from 2005, universities could be provided with students' grades in individual A-level papers, as well as their overall grades, to allow admissions tutors to identify high-flyers.

* new coursework projects covering more than one subject, another recommendation from the taskforce's report last month, could be in place from September 2006.

Mr Tomlinson told the conference of secondary heads and college principals that the domination of subject-specific departments in secondary schools must be broken down if far-reaching curriculum reforms in his report are to succeed. meaning??

He said that strong inter-departmental boundaries meant that teachers too often did not assess a pupil's learning needs together and so let down underachieving students.

In secondaries, students' learning programmes were often planned within individual departments, rather than as a whole.

For example, physics or chemistry teachers might complain that there were gaps in a pupil's maths knowledge. But there was no attempt to co-ordinate teaching to prevent this.

Mr Tomlinson contrasted this with the situation in many primary schools and FE colleges.

He said: "The challenge is to shift (the secondary) culture to give the learner prominence, rather than what happens at the present time for too many of our learners, which may be the reason why some of them are turned off."

A more co-ordinated approach to learning is a key component of the four-level diploma which Mr Tomlinson proposes should replace A-levels, GCSEs and vocational exams within 10 years.

David Miliband, school standards minister, said there were still big unanswered issues which had yet to be addressed by Mr Tomlinson, including funding and how schools and colleges were kept accountable for their students' performance.

He also backed American-style graduation ceremonies when students left schools and colleges at the age of 18.

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