Labour 'dithers' on post-16 revamp

5th March 1999 at 00:00
Heads are growing sceptical of promises to overhaul the A-level, and want reforms to GCSE league tables. Sarah Cassidy reports.

THE GOVERNMENT'S fear of voters' disapproval has led it to drop radical plans to overhaul A-levels, say headteachers.

They fear Labour is to water down existing proposals to revamp A-levels and broaden post-16 study.

Ministers are due to confirm changes to post-16 qualifications to come into effect from September 2000. They are expected to announce a move away from "narrow" A-level study towards a system where pupils take a range of subjects in their first year, then focus on three for the last 12 months.

But David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, called for more radical reform saying government plans for incremental and voluntary change were not expected to go far enough.

He told the National Conference of Secondary Heads and Deputies that the NAHT remained unconvinced that ministers intended real reform. He said:

"The real reason for Government dithering is its fear of allegations that the 'gold standard of A-level' is at risk with presumed electoral consequences."

He said failure to broaden the qualifications framework "would be a tragedy, bearing in mind that the current system serves only a minority and provides little, if anything, by way of relevant study programmes for the majority."

Last week Tory leader William Hague called for a new A* grade to be introduced at A-level arguing that it would encourage students to "aim for excellence". Mr Hague also warned that the Government's proposals for A-level reform could lead to a dilution of standards and insisted the "gold standard" of A-levels be maintained.

His ideas were condemned by both headteachers' organisations.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said a new A* grade would only reinforce the A-level's position as an elite exam.

"What is required in the UK is a structure of post-16 qualifications serving the whole population and which does not concentrate on a tiny minority at the top end of the ability range," he said.

"To introduce A* grades will devalue the A grade and cause more stress among the most academically able as it has already done at GCSE."

Mr Hart said: "William Hague has clearly hit the wrong targets with his support for A* at A-level. Instead of pandering to the needs of the elite, he should concentrate on supporting the majority of 16-year-olds for whom the current qualifications framework is inappropriate."

* 'NEGLECT' CLAIM

Secondary pupils have been neglected as ministers concentrate on primary education, say heads who are frustrated at the Government's apparent lack of interest in A-level reform or in the review of the national curriculum.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, told The TES: "I find it quite remarkable that a government that can be so focused on standards at KS2 and 3 should be so unwilling to talk about the 14 to 19 year-olds. They are being neglected in terms of their curriculum and examination needs."

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