Sprint to prepare new-look A-levels

24th March 2000 at 00:00
Ngaio Crequer reports on the results of a Curriculum 2000 survey, while colleges give Martin Whittaker their reactions to the changes

COLLEGES are in a race against time to get ready for Curriculum 2000, the new broader A-levels to be introduced in September.

A survey carried out for FE Focus and College Manager magazine reveals that many colleges are still in the dark about whether they will need extra staff, or if they will have time to recruit.

Nevertheless, the survey of nearly 200 colleges showed strong support for the changes, which will enable students to take four or five AS-levels in their first year, and then to concentrate on three A-levels in the second year.

Students will be offered a broader, more flexible curriculum, which will mean not only more staff, but increased pressure on accommodation, start-up costs for new syllabuses, and curriculum development time.

Newham Sixth-Form College, in east London, will be making wholesale changes to its curriculum. As early as 2001 it may need to reconsider its calendar, including bringing forward the start of the A-level programme.

"Some of the real pressures will not become apparent until 20012 when student choices for A2 levels (taken in the upper-sixth) and increased use of the facilities over two academic years will make an impact," said the college.

Chippenham College agreed: "We suspect real problems will only become clear in September and beyond, for example the problem of group sizes if students do not continue from AS to A2."

There is uncertainty throughout the sector. One college said it did not know how many new staff would be required, and ruled out new full-time posts. But predicted more hours for existing teachers.

Many colleges are concerned about their information-technology support. Many report that interest in IT is at an all-time high and think their resources may be stretched. Management information systems throughout the sector will also be overloaded.

One college said: "The funding council must get a grip on its own funding methodology."

Wilberforce College, in Hull, estimates it will need a 20 to 25 per cent increase in funding. It will extend its day by 30 minutes, while Hartpury, in Gloucestershire, is to add four weeks to its year.

Barry College, in the Vale of Glamorgan, would welcome an extra year to put everything in its place. "Having devised a model for curriculum 2000, we now need to work on the detail. It will be touch and go to get everything in place."

After IT, the next biggest concern is key skills. Pencoed, the smallest FE college in Wales, will find it difficult to fit in the hours necessary for teaching key skills.

Wirral Metropolitan College says the organisation and assessment of key skills will require considerable staff development and some redefinition of roles.

Above all, colleges want to be told their funding allocations. They will be given their "operational" allocations on June 12, and told final figures between July and August - all for a September start.

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