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A-level reforms?

I read that the head of Ofqual Glenys Stacey is looking at wide-ranging reforms to A-levels and is now seriously concerned about grade inflation. She has also suggested that modules may need reforming and that they may be appropriate for some subjects but not others. The possibility is also raised that not all subjects require an AS-level.

I always thought it was a shame that when the Curriculum 2000 discussions took place we did not take advantage of the opportunity to seriously broaden A-levels. The "gold standard" people won the argument and we ended up with the "dog's breakfast" situation in England and Wales whereby students usually do four subjects at AS-level, then three at A-level. I would have preferred us to have broadened to five subjects studies over two years.

It is hard to see how one could do away with AS-levels for some subjects and not others. If a student studied a subject for one year, then dropped it, what qualification would they be awarded?

As for grade inflation, yes, it has occurred, as it does all over the world, though my feeling is that in modern languages it has had less effect at the top of the scale than lower down. An A grade is still hard to get (A* particularly so, but that's another issue), whereas the weaker student who, 30 years ago, may have failed, would now get a low pass grade. One obvious antidote to grade inflation is to only allow a certain percentage of students to pass at each grade. There are arguments against this, but given how hard it is to define what an A, C or E grade precisely represents, then I would understand a move in this direction.

Modules never suited modern languages, of course, so we end up with the costly process of large numbers of re-sits in the A2 year. Along with many colleagues I would not be unhappy to see the back of modular exams which can disrupt teaching and may have had a deleterious effect on a student's overall understanding of a subject. It is quite possible to test students' understanding during a course without resorting to the formal exam system.

Vested interests and tradition may mean we continue to work with our highly specialised post 16 curriculum. A greater involvement of universities in A-level exam setting will only reinforce the narrowness of our curriculum.


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