Teachers attack 'twilight' A-levels

11th February 2000 at 00:00
Government plans for broader study will increase exam load. Sarah Cassidy reports.

SCHOOLS could have to run "twilight" exam sessions for sixth-formers, because of the extra time needed by the new-style A-levels.

The TES has learned that exam chiefs hope the A-level exam day will run as late as 5pm from January 2001 to allow time for sixthformers to take the modular exams.

Sixth-formers who start their courses in September will spend longer sitting exams than previous generations because of government plans to broaden their studies.

On average pupils will spend at least a third more time on the exams than they currently do.

The teacher unions have expressed concerned at the extra workload it will involve. Olwyn Gunn of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers said: "We are very worried that these plans will put undue pressure on candidates and teachers."

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said: "We do not believe that you can squeeze the exams into such an impossibly short time- table. The excessively long day will not help young people and puts teachers under unacceptable pressure at a time when they need to be calm and organised."

From September, sixth-formers are expected to take more A-level subjects as part of government reforms to broaden the post-16 curriculum. Teenagers will take up to five subjects, each consisting of six modules which wll be examined each January and June and can be retaken once - increasing examination time.

The Joint Council for General Qualifications, which sets the exam timetable, plans to offer four modular exams each day in order to limit the exam period and maximise teaching time. The morning session will run from 9am until 12.30pm and the afternoon session may run to 5pm.

A joint council spokesman said: "The exact timing will be up to schools. They will be able to decide whether to shorten the lunch hour and finish at 4.30pm or to run on to 5pm depending on the requirements of their students and staff."

However, teaching unions criticised this as unacceptable if students were to have a proper lunch break between exams.

Headteachers' unions and independent schools are in favour of the plans which they say will maximise teaching time to prepare pupils for the exams.

Sixth-formers taking existing modular exams are more likely to get top A-level grades than those taking traditional end-of-course papers, according to new figures released by a minister.

Lifelong learning minister Malcolm Wicks said that 20 per cent of modular A level candidates were awarded the top grades in last summer's exams, compared to 16 per cent of those who sat a conventional exam.

The new figures reveal that the gap between modular courses' A-grade success rate has steadily widened since the mini-exams were introduced in 1994.

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