Cash for questions: call for scholars to shape A levels

June 23, 2011

Academics could be given cash to devise A-level courses as examiners call for the higher education sector to take a more active role in shaping sub-degree qualifications.

A Better Approach to Higher Education/Exam Board Interaction for Post-16 Qualifications was released today by Cambridge Assessment. The report says that the academy has become "divorced" from the producers of sub-degree qualifications, with greater state involvement and mediation between the different sectors leading to "the purpose of qualifications sometimes being overlooked".

Michael Gove, the secretary of state for education, has said that universities must take a more active role in working with awarding bodies in a bid to "change our discredited exam system".

Bene't Steinberg, group director for public affairs at Cambridge Assessment, the University of Cambridge agency incorporating three major examining bodies, said sector involvement could be positive if approached in the right spirit.

"It's not enough for awarding bodies to simply offer a chair at the table," he said. "Higher education has got to really want to do it and the awarding bodies have really got to want them to do it."

The report suggests several ways to make working with awarding bodies appealing to academics.

One suggestion is that such work could be submitted under the "impact" criteria for the research excellence framework.

Another is that scholars could be given "financial incentives" to work with exam boards. Mr Steinberg said that not all responses to the REF proposal had been positive, but added: "You ought to be rewarded for ensuring your subject continues and that it is taught to the best level for the undergraduates you're about to take to the next level."

Simon Lebus, chief executive of Cambridge Assessment, predicted that the process to deliver greater higher education involvement in A levels would take five years, but said that the result "would be a much healthier way to monitor examinations than Ofqual".

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