Sykes review calls for British SATs

A levels no longer ‘certificates of readiness’ for the academy. John Morgan reports

March 24, 2010

The UK should consider developing a standardised university admissions test, as A levels are no longer proof of readiness for higher education, a review commissioned by the Conservative Party argues.

The review, led by Sir Richard Sykes, former rector of Imperial College London, describes A levels as “university entrance exams”.

But it argues that “the usefulness of the system has been eroded by the politicisation of assessment outcomes” and “universities’ loss of confidence in A levels as a certificate of readiness for university study”.

The review says: “The government should consult with universities on the benefits and challenges of developing a standardised university admissions test, to supplement A levels and other grades and assist with ranking decisions…If commissioned by the government, a university admissions test should measure language, mathematics and reasoning skills.”

Such a system would be comparable to the SAT Reasoning Test, the standardised college admissions test in the US.

The group behind the review includes a number of notable figures from the academy, among them Julia Buckingham, pro rector (education) at Imperial, and Alison Wolf, Sir Roy Griffiths professor of public sector management at King’s College London.

The review also recommends A-level reform. The exams should no longer automatically be modular – reinstating the traditional single exam – nor required to include AS levels as components, it says.

It argues that universities should publish information on which sort of qualifications they prefer and require, and that “meaningless” point scores that give equivalence to different types of 16-18 qualifications should be abolished.

“Since universities are the major users of A levels, they should have considerable input into their content and their structure,” it says. “The primary determinants of the content and form of A levels should be the requirements of the subject and the users of the qualification (students and higher education institutions/employers).”

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