Gove A-level plans under fire from universities

Plans for universities to control the content of A-levels are likely to prove expensive and “unworkable” in many subjects, higher education institutions have warned.

November 10, 2012

In an Ofqual report summarising responses to a consultation on proposed exam reform, published on 9 November, several major doubts about possible changes are raised by universities.

Michael Gove, the education secretary, had wanted universities - particularly those in the Russell Group - to design new A-level curricula.

The Ofqual report, titled ‘Impact assessment of A-level reforms’, says all higher education institutions raised concerns over plans for each A-level to require support from at least 20 universities, including 12 who are “respected” in that particular subject.

This condition posed a “significant resource implication on their organisation”, universities claim.

“A few staff would be required to take a significant time out of their work to review A-levels”, the report says.

“This could potentially replace the time they spend on other HEI [higher education institution] activities, such as research and teaching.

“As things stand at present, this time would not be recognised in the Research Assessment Exercises that influence HEI funding.”

Others criticised the proposed system as too bureaucratic, saying it would become an “administrative burden”.

“Some stakeholders also suggested that the current expectation of 20 universities that are required to support an A-level qualification is too high,” the Ofqual report says.

Some universities also felt “the current target of 20 universities would not be workable for some subjects,” the report adds.

“For example, in Physics there are only 35 university departments, and therefore it would be unreasonable to expect these universities to work with all five [awarding organisations – ie, exam boards].”

Other concerns raised by higher education institutions include the “potential risk that HEI endorsement could distort the market” and create a “two-tier system” of exams.

“Providers and students might be swayed in their choice of exam board by the universities providing the endorsement.

“This could potentially create a two-tier system with a greater value given to qualifications endorsed by universities, such as Oxford or Cambridge”, the report says.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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