Education & Family

A-level students facing shake-up

Examination room
Image caption A-levels face an overhaul that could include an extended essay and exams at the end of two years

Voluntary work and an extended essay could be part of a shake-up for A-level students in England, reports suggest.

This could see an "Advanced Baccalaureate" following on from the English Baccalaureate for 16 year olds.

It would also mean the A-level system adopting features of the International Baccalaureate preferred by a number of independent schools.

A Department for Education spokesman said A-levels would not be replaced and that "no decisions have been made".

But Labour's education spokesman Stephen Twigg backed an "A Bacc", if it had a "broad range of subjects".

The ATL teachers' union attacked the appearance of such exam changes in a newspaper leak - saying that it showed a "contempt for teachers".

End of spoon feeding

The proposals reported in The Times newspaper suggest that the current overhaul of A-levels could see the creation of an Advanced Baccalaureate.

It would include a range of A-levels, with an expectation that pupils would study a less narrow selection of subjects - such as studying sciences with an arts subject.

The AS-level would continue as a separate qualification, the reports suggest.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has previously called for a more academically rigorous approach to A-levels with greater involvement from universities.

Universities have complained that the current A-level system does not stretch pupils sufficiently or give them the intellectual independence and curiosity needed for degree-level study.

As a move away from a "spoon feeding" approach, Ofqual is currently consulting on whether modular A-levels should be scrapped and replaced with an exam at the end of two years.

This consultation is also looking at ideas such as limiting the number of re-sits.

The latest reports in The Times suggest that pupils would have to write a 5,000-word extended essay, adding an element that is an important part of the International Baccalaureate (IB).

International Baccalaureate

Head teacher of Wellington College, Anthony Seldon, warmly welcomed such changes if they made the A-level system more like the IB.

The providers of the IB system said such a change would be an acknowledgement that it offered the best system to equip pupils and to "ensure that the UK is internationally competitive".

The Department for Education emphasised this would not mean the end of A-levels - but the addition of an A-Bacc, which would include A-levels, as a new measure for schools.

"A-levels will not be replaced under any circumstances. There are public consultations about reforming A and AS-levels. There are also numerous suggestions about new A Bacc league table measures but no decisions have been made."

Labour's Stephen Twigg said that he supported the "concept of an A Bacc", but said that it should have a range of subjects including computing and engineering and should work alongside their proposed "Tech Bacc" for vocational courses.

The ATL teachers' union criticised how this information was reaching the public.

Changes to the exam system have been anticipated by a series of newspaper leaks - an issue raised by the education select committee in questions to Mr Gove.

Nansi Ellis, head of education policy and research, said: "It's right that the secretary of state is considering the future of assessment for young people. However, he shows contempt for teachers, pupils and parents by once again discussing this with journalists before talking to those who will be affected by it, or those with the expertise to ensure a changed system works.

"This is piecemeal change, dreamt up by politicians, which means no-one is quite sure what will happen next," she said.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers' union, attacked the proposals as "another example of Michael Gove's ideological manipulation of the school curriculum".

"These changes are being made on the basis of his own personal prejudices rather than developing a curriculum which is fit for children and young people in the 21st century."

Ofqual, which has been carrying out a public consultation on changes to A and AS-levels, is expected to publish the findings of its public consultation later this autumn.

"Wider reforms of the qualifications system are for ministers to consider and, as regulator, we will continue to provide advice on how their policy aims can be achieved and standards and delivery secured," said an Ofqual spokeswoman.

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