Schools defy AS-level ‘decoupling’

22nd January 2016 at 00:00

Almost three-quarters of schools are ignoring the intent of controversial A-level reforms by planning to hold AS-level exams this summer, research by Ucas suggests.

A survey of more than 300 schools by the university admissions service finds that 74 per cent are entering students for AS-levels in reformed subjects, where the AS will have been “decoupled” from the A-level for the first time since 2000. This is despite reforms, which aim to reduce testing and free up teaching time by allowing students to take a single set of A-levels that would cover two years of in-depth study.

Schools told Ucas they were continuing to use the AS exam because it was a “useful measure of progress” and because it would ensure students had a qualification in a subject even if they dropped it after a year.

Among respondents, 59 per cent were planning to offer the AS exam in all reformed subjects and 15 per cent were planning to do so in some reformed subjects. The total of 74 per cent is up from the 66 per cent who predicted that they would continue to use AS-levels in reformed subjects in a Ucas survey last year.

The new poll finds that almost a third of private schools have dropped AS-levels, compared with 15 per cent of academies and 19 per cent of maintained schools.

The report reveals that although increasing teaching time was “one of the rationales behind A-level reform”, just 11 per cent of respondents said that this had occurred. It also indicates that the number of schools offering AS-levels could fall after 2017, 64 per cent said that they would “revisit their decision” once reforms had been rolled out to all subjects.

Ucas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook said: “A clearer picture is emerging with many schools and colleges planning to retain the diversity of the curriculum…All this means that students will be applying to higher education holding a greater [range] of qualifications.”

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools will be aware of the risk to youngsters that if something goes wrong with their A-level, and they haven’t done the AS, they may have no results to show.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We have returned to A-level exams at the end of a two-year course to address the problems caused by resits and modules. This will allow students to spend more time developing deep subject understanding.”


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