Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Examination - Rapid A-Level Reform Is Branded a 'Huge Gamble': News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Examination - Rapid A-Level Reform Is Branded a 'Huge Gamble': News

Article excerpt

'High risk' timetable may lead to invalid results, elite schools warn.

Reforms to England's A-level examination system are "high risk" and could lead to invalid results and significant drops in the numbers of students achieving top grades, principals of elite private schools have warned.

The school leaders are concerned that the revamped A levels, which are due to be introduced from 2015, will not be trialled before being taken by tens of thousands of young people, despite a pledge to do so.

"It is a huge gamble to rush so much change at high speed with no piloting," said William Richardson, general secretary of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), which represents elite institutions including Eton College and Harrow School.

Dr Richardson's warning comes less than a week before this year's A-level results, which are not likely to rise significantly, or at all, as a clampdown on grade inflation continues. Several top universities are preparing to take part in the clearing process for unfilled places in case they struggle to fill places allotted to high-grade students for a second year running.

Dr Richardson is predicting that reformed A levels will accelerate the trend towards lower grades. The changes will mean that modular A levels are replaced with linear qualifications where assessments take place at the end of two-year courses.

"If you enter students for three linear A levels, the assessment regime is less predictable for them in their weakest subject because they have had no milestones along the way to help them calibrate their achievement," Dr Richardson said.

While some universities have become used to selecting from a pool of high- flying candidates with straight As, from 2017 they may have to deal with similar students getting ACE or even BBF, Dr Richardson said.

"Parents will start to say, 'The teaching can't have been great because John's elder sister Jane got AAA, and I don't believe that he's any less bright and he's got ACE,'" Dr Richardson said. The HMC is already lobbying universities to ensure that they are prepared to take account of the new conditions and change their typical offers.

Professor Alan Smithers from the University of Buckingham said the lower grades predicted by Dr Richardson are "likely". He warned: "It may take universities a while to adjust their sights."

But Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that he expects exams watchdog Ofqual to ensure that students are not disadvantaged by the reform. …

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