Top independents have 'no appetite' to ditch A-levels and GCSEs

15th October 2010 at 01:00

Most of the country's leading independent schools are unlikely to reject GCSEs and A-levels outright in favour of trendy "tougher" alternatives, research has concluded.

The decision to stick with the status quo comes despite widespread concerns over the content and assessment of standard qualifications.

Research carried out for the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) found that media reports about large numbers of private schools rejecting standard qualifications were "over-stated", despite schools' concerns over the modular design of courses, and their apparent failure to challenge high flyers.

While many schools were dabbling in the IGCSE, Pre-U and International Baccalaureate (IB), most were "not considering abandoning GCSEs and A-levels", the report said.

It suggested that despite concerns that modular courses lead to too much testing and revising and not enough learning, schools "did not have the appetite for more turbulence and radical change".

The report also pointed out that schools were becoming "risk averse" despite wanting to switch from modular courses to those examined at the end.

"It appeared that anti-modular sentiment was more widespread than anti-modular action," it said.

The report, produced after a series of six seminars involving independent school heads, deputies and directors of study, concluded that there was a "widespread desire for stability to provide the space in which they could gradually and strategically improve the curiculum and teaching."

The A* at A-level was introduced to appease the concerns of schools and universities that say it is hard to tell a good candidate from an outstanding one.

The extended project, which has been popular with many independents, has also been warmly welcomed as an additional element alongside A-levels to stretch the most able.

Despite this, just over half of schools who took part in the study were experimenting with new qualifications such as the Pre-U and IB.

Official figures show that 56 independent schools are planning to enter candidates for the 201112 Cambridge Pre-U exams, and 45 state schools.

But only 10 out of 127 schools taking part in a survey for HMC last year said they were running the Pre-U or elements of it.

Cambridge IGCSEs, which can now be followed in state schools, are taken in 300 independent schools.

The study comes after a number of high-profile schools hit the headlines after bold switches to new qualifications.

Charterhouse school in Surrey was criticised by former international footballer Gary Lineker, who accused it of treating his son's year group "like guinea pigs" after an all-out rejection of A-levels and a switch to the Pre-U.

Tony Little, headmaster of Eton, last year said that standard GCSE exams frustrated bright children with questions of "crippling simplicity". His school offers IGCSEs in maths, history, biology, chemistry, physics and music.

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