Leave it to the professionals

August 23, 2012

Involving universities in developing and monitoring A levels is a good idea and will help to address grade inflation - but the model proposed by Ofqual is unlikely to work ("Higher counsel is no solution to exam divorce issues", News, 16 August).

While universities' general response to the proposal to give them more control of A levels has been positive, the response at the individual institutional and subject level has been lukewarm. This is not surprising, as developing A levels is not the primary motivation of most academics. Furthermore, Ofqual's model, whereby examination boards must obtain the approval of a minimum number of universities, is likely to lead to cosmetic involvement by the academy and to degenerate into a box-ticking exercise.

Strong national leadership at the subject level is needed - and the best way to achieve it is through the creation of national subject committees to take the lead in the development of content and standards. Such committees would arise from the subject communities that are so strong in higher education and would ensure representation from leading experts at a range of universities.

In a number of subjects, the natural leads for creating these subject committees would be the professional bodies, such as the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Physics and the Society of Biology. Where suitable professional bodies do not already exist, subject committees could be convened for the purpose, in a manner similar to that for the accreditation of university degrees.

Sir John Holman, Department of chemistry, University of York

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