'Don't undermine A-level achievements'

RICHARD BATSON Ministers were last night urged not to undermined the achievements of thousands of students by branding A-levels “too easy”.


Ministers were last night urged not to undermine the achievements of thousands of students by branding A-levels "too easy".

The plea came from an East Anglian teachers' representative and Norwich North MP Ian Gibson after the head of the government's examination regulator, the Qualification and Curriculum Authority (QCA), said there would be major changes to A-levels within two years.

It is in response to complaints from universities that the soaring number of top grades makes it difficult for them to distinguish between the best applicants and the "merely well drilled".

The wide-ranging review of A-levels could include bringing in an extra A* top grade, along with asking more open-ended essay style questions, and cutting the number of examined units to encourage deeper study.

Education secretary Alan Johnson said yesterday he favoured the plans for a tougher top A* grade, as it would help universities, and employers, identify the most outstanding candidates.

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He also backed calls from the QCA for a shake-up of coursework, including more supervision by teachers.

Glenys Shepherd, Aylsham High School teacher and member of the executive of the National Union of Teachers representing Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge and Peterborough, said: "To change A-levels to suit university entrance, would be the tail wagging the dog.

"It is a very narrow viewpoint and A-levels are not there just to help universities pick students. Education has a much wider brief.

"It is about all children, not just those going to universities."

The move to make A-levels harder "yet again devalues what children and teachers have achieved. A lot of hard work goes into getting good grades," said Mrs Shepherd.

Dr Gibson said: "In my experience working in higher education A-levels are not a good way of testing somebody's aptitude for university so there is no point changing them to suit universities as they will still need to carry out their own tests and interviews.

"I favour a complete overhaul of the system with A-levels being replaced by a much broader and more relevant qualification.

"But this debate should not overshadow students' achievements."

Last year the government rejected a plan by its former chief inspector of schools Sir Mike Tomlinson to replace A-levels and GCSEs with a new diploma.

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