Gove's A-level reforms? We'll stick with modules, says Harrow head

9th July 2010 at 01:00
Bid to revive 'art of deep thought' with linear exam model predicted to be rejected by many schools

Modular a- and AS-levels will continue to thrive in the face of ministers' attempts to replace them with more traditional versions, exam boards, academics and the head of Harrow School predicted this week.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced that he will invite universities to design A-levels that return to a linear style, with exams left until the end of two-year courses.

He expects his planned "revival of the art of deep thought" to lead to schools abandoning modular A-levels that see pupils assessed at least twice during their courses.

But Barnaby Lenon, head of Harrow School, said he would continue to use the modular approach in some subjects because it offered greater breadth and flexibility.

"It is also really motivating to pupils to get results halfway through a course," the head of the #163;29,670-a-year public school said. "It is a check on how you are doing.

"I would be willing to bet that most heads would stick with what they have got."

Mr Gove's comments last weekend prompted misleading headlines suggesting "the end of AS-levels" and that he had "killed off" and "scrapped" the exam.

But his plan is for alternative linear A-levels to be introduced during the next three to five years in the expectation that they will win over schools and universities and defeat modular A- and AS-levels in the marketplace.

However, Professor Alan Smithers of Buckingham University believes Mr Gove could be disappointed. "Schools are under pressure to maximise their exam scores so unless you look at the system as a whole it is not clear what change could take place," he said.

"The secretary of state may desire this (a return to linear A-levels), but unless it works for the children and the schools it won't happen."

Mr Gove believes it will be universities' demand for tougher A-levels that will persuade schools to abandon the modular versions.

But Mr Lenon predicted that universities' concerns would be addressed through A-level changes introduced this year with a new A* grade, more "stretch and challenge", and the removal of coursework.

The head said he expected universities to continue accepting modular A-levels, although he thinks they may insist more on A* grades and reject results obtained through resits.

Sources in two of the big three exam boards predicted that they would continue to provide modular A-levels alongside linear ones as long as schools demanded them.

Geoff Lucas, secretary of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which represents the heads of top public schools, said that although many of his members favoured a linear approach, modular A-levels remained "extremely popular" with parents and pupils. They felt they were the best way to maximise grades, he said, and some schools would continue with them.

Janet Graham, director of the Supporting Professionalism in Admissions Programme, an advice service for universities, said universities were influenced by the exams that schools used as well as the other way round.

"Most institutions (universities) are quite happy with the A-levels as they are now, particularly with stretch and challenge being introduced," she said.

News analysis, pages 22-23.

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