Russell Group to review two A-level subjects

The Russell Group will only need to revamp two A-level subject areas after a review said just minor changes were needed to most qualifications.

September 6, 2013

The review, led by Lancaster University vice-chancellor Mark E. Smith, examined what changes were needed in the content of 13 A levels in mainly “facilitating subjects”, which are viewed favourably by leading universities.

It followed claims by the education secretary Michael Gove that many A levels were not preparing students for the demands of university study or challenging the brightest pupils.

He called for universities to take “ownership” of A levels to ensure their standards – a process that would start with the Russell Group helping to redesign exams in subjects requiring major changes.

However, it appears the radical revamp of A levels envisaged by Mr Gove may not occur, with most subjects found to be broadly fit for purpose and able to be altered by exam boards alone.

An initial group established by the exam regulator Ofqual and chaired by Professor Smith, which included the input of many academics from the Russell Group, the 1994 Group and other “high-tariff universities” has found that only maths and languages require major changes.

Art and design, and sociology, will require no substantive changes, while business, sciences, computing, economics, English, history and other humanities subjects need only “minor, but substantive” changes when they are moved to entirely linear courses from 2015.

Maths, further maths and languages will require “major, substantive changes” that will delay their introduction into classrooms for teaching until 2016.

The Russell Group’s new A Level Content Advisory Board will now advise over the next year on the A-level content and skills – known as the subject criteria – of the new revamped maths and language exams, according to a letter from Ofqual chief executive Glenys Stacey to Mr Gove, dated 6 September.

The Russell Group will also play a leading role in an annual post-A level review process from 2017 when the first new A-level exams are sat by students.

Alex Bols, executive director of the 1994 Group, welcomed the Ofqual’s approach to the A-level revisions.

“Universities have been keen to be involved in the A levels reform process and to ensure that they remain the gold standard,” he said.

The independent review group, which Professor Smith chaired, has worked hard to consider a wide range of subjects, including all the so-called “facilitating subjects” (except modern foreign languages), he added.

“The group recommended minor revisions to the content of some subjects which could be ready for teaching from September 2015 with the exception of maths and further maths which require more fundamental work,” he said

“It is important that we get these changes right and we therefore welcome the secretary of state’s agreement that maths and further maths be delayed until fully revised.”

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