Reforming A Levels

The Telegraph – A Levels Reform – Getting To Grips With Testing Times

The British Government wants to make A levels a better preparation for college (some would say that they couldn’t make them worse). In such circumstances, one of the biggest changes is the move away from half yearly small chunk testing, to a full test of the entire two year syllabus at the end of the two years (as was the case way back when I took my A levels. One thing clear to me is that this makes it even more important that in the years running up to A levels children are learning about and developing effective habits in managing their own time and handling study skills. The system should reward those who work steadily, continuously and effectively, not those who have mastered the worst habits of last-minutism.

It’s suggested that this will see the demise of AS levels. I don’t think it should. If students look at AS as a half A level, they can take a one year programme in some subjects that might not lend themselves to a two year course of study (like the AS in English language) Some students may be stretching too far to take four A levels, but would be comfortable with three and a half (3 A’s and an AS).

There are concerns raised about students who might waste the whole two years (at taxpayers’ expense) only to reveal that they haven’t been putting in any effort and that the time and money were wasted. I would assume that schools would still have an internal, in house examination at the end of the first year and this would flag up warning signs. Clearly enunciated policies prior to the start of A levels could make very clear what happens if students cannot perform or demonstrate that they’re progressing ad learning at that stage.

Reduced coursework and continuous assessment would be a sad loss, from a learning perspective, in my view. However, its lost we will probably have to see that as the price to be paid for the failure of the profession to police itself and the people who abused and mistreated internal assessment. The argument has been that assessors in schools mark their pupils too generously. I’m sure this could have been addressed with a system of random selection of post-marked student work and the awareness that if the marks granted deviate by more than a certain margin from those of the centralised assessors then there would be consequences for the school, the Head and the teachers concerned. The IBO has such a system and I believe it’s pretty effective.

The article also talks of the concerns about relying on predicted grades. Again, the IBO has very clear rules and all schools and Heads under that regime know that if their predicted grades deviate from the actual achieved to any great extent then there can be serious implications. Once you ensure accountability, then such a system can be made to work. The answer isn’t necessarily to throw out the entire system.

We should be making such decisions on the basis of what’s best for pupils, best for learning and best for preparing them effectively for the real world. There’s a cynical voice in my head that’s suggesting that whilst there are justifications given for the changes here, the biggest motivator could well have been cutting costs.

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