Oxford admissions head sounds warning over exam changes

Plans to overhaul A-levels will have “tragic consequences” on fair access efforts, the University of Oxford’s admissions head has said.

October 16, 2013

Mike Nicholson, director of undergraduate admissions and outreach at Oxford, said making AS levels a stand-alone qualification would eliminate a useful indicator of final exam performance that had encouraged bright students to apply for selective courses.

“The loss of AS levels will have tragic consequences for widening participation and access to higher education,” Mr Nicholson told a Westminster Education Forum in London on 15 October.

“The real danger is students will plough on believing that they may not be capable of applying to a highly selective course,” he said. Meanwhile, less able students may continue with applications to highly selective courses without realising they have little chance of success, he added.

Mr Nicholson also warned that the rapid transition to the new system of A levels – coupled with changes to GCSEs – risked causing “havoc” in England’s school system, with students at less well-resourced schools hit hardest.

“The schools that adapt quickest are schools that are doing well at the moment,” he said.

The Department of Education should delay the introduction of the new A-levels system until the GCSE reforms had been implemented, he added. “The race to 2015 is unnecessary,” he said.

He suggested the reforms were “another example of a government’s tendency to meddle in things they should probably leave alone”.

“There is widespread concern, not restricted to the secondary school sector but also to higher education, about the limited evidence that there is need for any change,” he said.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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