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Proposed changes to A level exams

Here is the full text of Michael Gove's letter to Ofqual regarding changes to A levels.

I note that he records that university modern language staff complain of students' lack of skills after A level. I wonder how anecdotal and widespread this evidence is. My feeling, backed by over 30 years A level French teaching experience, is that A level has become only marginally easier and that A grade students are pretty much as good as they ever were. They probably have better listening and oral skills than those of the 1970s and, possibly, slightly worse grammar skills than students from that era. Nearly 70% achieve A*-B grade* (more than previously because A level linguists, along with mathematicians and scientists, tend to be relatively more able than most students).

Secondly, Gove writes that private schools routinely teach beyond A level to give their students an advantage. I taught in both the state and independent sector and my feeling is that this is probably not often the case in MFL. Evidence for this may include the fact that take-up for the Pre U examination has been woefully small.

Thirdly, and this perplexes me most, Gove writes:

"I would like the AS level to be as intellectually demanding as an A level, covering half of the content of a full A level and delivered over either one or two years, so that institutions could decide what is best for their students."

This makes little sense in MFL. AS level is now considered an extension of higher tier GCSE and a suitable stepping stone to A2 level. A2 is currently significantly harder than AS and the current system furnishes an appropriate rate of progress for the large majority of students. If AS were to become as intellectually challenging as A2 it would put off prospective students who already find AS enough of a challenge.

I question whether this has been thought through for all subjects. My hope and assumption would be that, during the process of designing new specifications for MFL and of drafting specimen exam papers, common sense will prevail and AS will remain easier than A2. The leap from GCSE to AS level is already tough for many students; making it tougher will, at best, only benefit a minority of students.

If AS level is to be a stand-alone exam, not part of A level, then schools may be tempted to ignore them and we shall be back to where we were before Curriculum 2000. On the other hand, the search for school value added and the desire of students to beef up their CVs, or just explore their interests, may give AS a boost.

* If you follow this link you will see that there is some evidence of grade inflation in French since 1993 (though less than many other subjects), but do not forget that the cohort of students taking languages at A level has changed considerably and is now, on average, a good deal more able.


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