Exam reformer thinks again

27th July 2001 at 01:00
AS-level architect Nick Tate is considering using the International Baccalaureate in his public school. Judith Judd reports.

THE architect of the controversial A-level reforms - who is now head of a leading public school - is considering whether to abandon the exam in favour of the International Baccalaureate.

As thousands of sixth-formers await the results of the new AS-levels, Dr Nick Tate, who a year ago became head of Winchester College in Hampshire, will spend the summer deciding whether his pupils should switch to the IB, which includes arts, science, philosophy and assessed extra-curricular activities.

Dr Tate also described how the Government effectively muzzled him after winning the 1997 general election. He disagreed with the decision to cut back the detailed programmes of study for the national curriculum in primary schools and said so publicly.

He was taken aside, he says, and it was made clear that he had blotted his copybook. "There was a powerful media manipulation machine that wanted all positive headlines."

The incident, he acknowledges, changed the way in which the authority approached ministers. "From then on, we were more cautious about giving them advice that they didn't want to hear."

In an interview with The TES, Dr Tate, former chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the quango which advises the Government on exams, says: "Educationally there is a lot to be said for the IB."

He is also considering whether the school should adopt the intermediate IB which is examined at 16. Winchester boys take GCSEs at least a year early and would then take the intermediate course rather than AS-levels.

Dr Tate, who recently admitted that he had "got it wrong" at the QCA and that pupils faced too many exams, said that the great advantage of the intermediate IB was that, at 16, the assessment was done internally by teachers. There was only one set of external exams at 18.

Education Secretary Estelle Morris this month asked the authority to find ways of lightening the load of the new AS-levels which sixth-formers take a year after GCSE before moving on to A-levels in the following year.

Several independent schools have already adopted the IB, but its introduction at Winchester, which many believe to be the country's most academic school, would give the qualification a boost.

Dr Tate believes that the IB would fit in well with the broad curriculum and cultural depth which the school tries to give its pupils.

He says: "The disadvantages are that it restricts choice. For a substantial minority of children the change of mood in the sixth form which allows them to drop a number of subjects is attractive."

He began to rethink his views about the number of tests and examinations after he experienced at first hand the pressures on schools.

A curriculum review at Winchester since he arrived has also considered a proposal that boys should take only English and maths at GCSE. "We decided that this would be felt to be eccentric and would disadvantage boys so we rejected it for the time being."

Full interview, 18

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