Ministers have dropped plans to revert to a single three-hour examination for AS and A-level candidates, despite the timetable clashes and assessment overload that marred this summer's exams.
Students will continue to sit a paper for each of the three study modules in an AS subject. But in most subjects, they will be able to take all three papers together in a single three-hour session.
That will mean reducing the length of some longer papers to an hour. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which has been reviewing the first year of the post-16 reforms, estimates more than 95 per cent of next summer's students will end up spending less time in exams. The proposals should also reduce timetable clashes - which this year resulted in hundreds of students being segregated from classmates, or staying overnight in teachers' homes.
But there will be no changes to the content of AS and A2 syllabuses. Students will continue to be able to take modules in January as well as June, and the AS exam period will remain unchanged in summer 2002. Teachers and students had complained that the early scheduling of AS exams before A2s meant they only had two terms to cover courses. However, the exam period will be extended from two and a half to three weeks.
Less than two months ago, Education Secretary Estelle Morris said 17-year-olds would be able to sit a single test of up to three hours in most subjects, rather than three short papers (TES, July 13), and that January exams would only be available to a minority. This week, she welcomed the QCA proposals, saying they would significantly reduce burdens on teachers and pupils.
David Hargreaves, the QCA's chief executive, said the option of linear exams was never seriously considered.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "The QCA has produced a blueprint which will go a long way towards reducing the overload on students and their teachers. However, the sequence of AS and A2 exams must be changed because we still have the unacceptable situation where students have barely two terms in which to prepare for their end of first year exams."
Similar proposals have been made in Wales. The QCA is due to complete its review of Curriculum 2000, including key skills and vocational A-levels, by December.
SINGLE SITTINGS FOR SOME
From summer 2002, students will be able to take their three AS exams in one three-hour sitting in all subjects except the following:
English language and literature;
Social science: citizenship;
Use of maths.