Exam watchdog publishes proposals on A-level oversight

A-level courses could require a stamp of approval by learned societies or “a subgroup of universities” under plans put forward by the exam regulator Ofqual.

June 19, 2012

The consultation on A-level reform, published on 19 June, contains plans to give universities a greater role in the oversight of curricula.

Earlier this year, it emerged that the education secretary, Michael Gove, had told Ofqual he wanted a shake-up in which Russell Group universities would design the content of A levels.

However, press reports have suggested that universities and learned societies are sceptical about such plans.

Ofqual’s consultation retains a key role for exam boards, with universities taking a supervisory role.

Glenys Stacey, chief regulator at Ofqual, says in her introduction to the consultation document: “It is not for us to decide how universities and exam boards should work together, but we want to make sure that our arrangements for sign-off [of qualification content by universities] allow us to be confident that there has been sufficient engagement, without imposing unnecessary burden on universities in the development process.”

The document adds: “We will require each exam board to provide us with its own evidence of support and record of university engagement for each qualification.

“Universities will be free to develop their own arrangements to provide that support, according to their needs and resources. For example, they could agree that the decision about whether to support a qualification could be informed by a recommendation from the relevant learned society, or a subgroup of universities.”

The consultation says that Ofqual will “require more formal sign-off from a number of respected universities [that] are willing for their institutions to publicly endorse a qualification”.

It adds: “In his letter to us in March 2012, the Secretary of State suggested that these should be ‘our best, research-intensive universities such as those represented by the Russell Group’.

“It is difficult for us, and indeed the higher education sector, to identify definitively these universities, which may vary by subject. Therefore we will work with universities to decide.”

Wendy Piatt, director-general of the Russell Group, said: “We will carefully consider the government’s proposal that our universities should sign off on all A levels. However there are real pressures of time and resources which we will need to balance.”

Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ group of new universities, welcomed “an opportunity for universities to be involved in developing A levels”, but added that the exams “would lose all credibility for students, employers and higher education if their approval depended on a small subset of universities”.


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