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Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 13:05 GMT 14:05 UK
AS-levels 'a logistical nightmare'
exam room
The AS-level exams have proved controversial
The administrative chaos caused by the new AS-level examinations needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency, head teachers say.

Presenting evidence to a review of changes to the post-16 curriculum the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said administering the new exams had been a "logistical nightmare".

The difficulty created for schools has been considerable and has been stressful for pupils, staff and parents

NAHT report
The review - headed by the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, David Hargreaves - was ordered by Education Secretary Estelle Morris following criticism and concerns raised by unions, teachers, pupils and parents alike.

"In one school they have had over 70 clashes which means that on each occasion pupils have required supervising and on many days up to 50 rooms have been used for examination purposes," the NAHT report said.

The union also claimed the programme had failed in its aim to broaden students' education, because many students were doing more of the same.

"It has proved too much to expect students to cope with AS examinations - many of which are pitched at A-level standard - at the end of Year 12," the report said.

'Many hours wasted'

The attitude of universities towards the new curriculum must also be addressed, with some institutions unsure of the qualifications' worth.

Estelle Morris
Estelle Morris wants answers over the post-16 curriculum
"Schools have wasted many hours contacting many individual universities in an attempt to find out their views on the new qualifications," the NAHT said.

"Surely QCA or the Department for Education should have taken on the role of discovering the views of universities prior to the implementation of these new qualifications, in order to help schools advise their students and implement a meaningful programme," the union argued.

The rules about "cashing in" AS-levels were complex and confusing - and a lack of clear guidance from the government and the QCA had not helped schools advise their students.


The report said schools had found themselves in an impossible position when attempting to guide pupils through "the maze of the new qualification structure".

"The difficulty created for schools on this matter has been considerable and has been most stressful for pupils, staff and parents," the union said.

Schools had also received no clear guidance from exam boards on the standards expected of AS-level candidates, the NAHT report suggested.

And many schools had had difficulty funding the AS programme, with additional funding having proved "patchy".

Vocational route

NAHT general secretary David Hart said: "The evidence from the NAHT demonstrates that urgent action has to be taken to remove the worst excesses of the post-16 reforms."

We welcome AS-level as an important halfway house to A level

John Dunford, SHA
"In the longer term the NAHT is seeking a radical reform of the 14-19 curriculum and we are confident that the government will move in this direction sooner rather later," he said.

Expressing its concerns about the curriculum changes to the enquiry, the Secondary Heads Association (SHA) said the new curriculum must be considered in the context of a wider review of post-14 qualifications.

It called on the government to reduce the content of AS-level courses and to reconsider the role and extent of external examinations which had "spiralled out of control in recent years".

Implementation issues

But the union said the major problems had been ones of implementation - most notably a lack of funding, the haste of the introduction of the reforms, poor administration, examination board difficulties and the lack of a firm response from universities.

SHA's general secretary, John Dunford, stressed the union supported the principles of the Curriculum 2000 reforms.

"We welcome AS-level as an important halfway house to A-level," Mr Dunford said.

The changes had led to an improved work ethic among student in Year 12, he said.

"We are confident that David Hargreaves will make recommendations to improve the situation for next year," he added.

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See also:

12 Jun 01 | New exams
What's new
12 Jun 01 | Education
A-level reforms to be reviewed
12 Jun 01 | Education
Examination debate is 'ill-timed'
11 Jun 01 | Education
Exam expert says 'too much testing'
17 May 01 | Education
Heads call for abolition of GCSEs
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