Michael Gove to overhaul A levels

Education secretary Michael Gove has outlined his plans to overhaul A level qualifications. The government is set to place universities in charge of approving exam content, and will remove the Department for Education from taking any kind of role.

In a letter to exam regulator Ofqual, Gove raised his concerns about the current standard of the A levels, claiming that, ‘leading university academics tell me that A levels do not prepare students well enough for the demands of an undergraduate degree.’ Changes made to the current system would see exams taken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland affected.

The news comes as a study found that a number of university lecturers believed that students were unprepared for university teaching. Of those lecturers polled, three-fifths said they had run ‘catch-up’ classes to assist students. Over half of the 633 who took part said many students do not have the writing, or critical thinking skills required to study at undergraduate level.

If plans are to go ahead, the control over A level content would be removed from exam boards and handed over to universities. Gove wrote: ‘I am particularly keen that universities should be able to determine subject content, and that they should endorse specifications, including details of how the subject should be assessed. I will expect the bar to be a high one: university ownership of the exams must be real and committed, not a tick-box exercise.’

The new system would still see exam boards set the outline for courses, but it would be encouraged that students were only entered for exams if they had been approved by a Russell Group university.

Responses to the new scheme have been mixed. NUT general sectary Christine Blower said that there would be, ‘no harm done’ from the new measures, however, it would be more complicated than it appeared in implement the scheme: ‘You can’t decide to have a hands-off approach in one bit of the education system but attempt to dominate the whole of the rest of it. A-levels have to be seen as part of the education system.’

Teaching Drama contributor, and The Stage’s education editor, Susan Elkin said on Twitter: ‘So Gove wants universities to set GCSEs and A Levels. [The] ones I took were all set by University of London. Education has always been cyclical.’Tis said that if you teach for 40 years and stick unchangingly to your methods etc., you will be in fashion three times.’

The government plans for the new A level qualifications to be taught from 2014, starting with English, maths and science. The system would then be implemented across the whole board of subjects.

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