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The BBC's James Westhead
"The government hopes this years difficulties are teething problems that will settle down"
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Nigel de Gruchy of the NASUWT
"We need to provide more resources for teachers and pupils"
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Dr Anne Hodgson from the Inst of Education
"We need to look at it from 14+, not just at advanced level"
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Tuesday, 12 June, 2001, 17:35 GMT 18:35 UK
A-level reforms to be reviewed
exam room
Students say they are overburdened with testing
There is to be a review of the implementation of the changes to the A-level exams, which have brought wide-ranging complaints from students, their parents, teachers and head teachers.

Inevitably, not everything is yet right

Estelle Morris
The new Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, has asked the head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) in England, David Hargreaves, to "take personal charge" of a review.

His office has confirmed that the review will include Wales and Northern Ireland, where the "Curriculum 2000" changes also apply this year.

Ms Morris acknowledged the concerns being expressed in schools and colleges about the burdens being placed on students during the current examination season.

She said she did not want it to be thought that the government did not review its policies.

Undoubtedly there have been some teething problems

David Hargreaves, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority
"These are the most fundamental reforms to advanced level qualifications for 50 years," she said.

"Inevitably, not everything is yet right in the way they have been brought in and there will be lessons to be learnt."

But she remained committed to modernising the 16-19 curriculum.

'Carry on'

"We have rightly moved on from the old, excessively-narrow sixth form curriculum - it was simply not enough. I will expect schools to continue teaching the broader curriculum, including AS, from September.

estelle morris
Estelle Morris wants answers within weeks
"But we need to make sure that the new qualifications maintain their rigour whilst not placing unreasonable burdens of assessment on students, or on schools or colleges."

She said he wanted to see the QCA report during July, and would then think carefully about what action needed to be taken.

"Their conclusions can help lead to improvements in the delivery of the second year of the examinations from this autumn," she said.

"The Key Skills qualification appears to have caused particular difficulty for many, despite the setting up of a major programme of guidance and support for schools and colleges to support its introduction. The review will include a detailed evaluation of Key Skills."

'Not compulsory'

A limited review of Key Skills was underway already - prompted by BBC News Online's revelation that trial papers, with some of the same questions as in the real exams, had been published on the internet.

Mr Hargreaves said he would start work on the new, wider review at once.

"Undoubtedly there have been some teething problems. I shall be talking to schools, colleges and exam boards about what lessons have been learned and how arrangements can be improved in the future," was his initial response.

Ms Morris's intervention follows a rising tide of complaint as the AS-level and Key Skills exam timetable rolls through schools and colleges.

Even the former head of the QCA, Nick Tate - now head of independent Winchester College - said he felt teenagers now faced too many public exams, with GCSEs, AS-levels and Key Skills and A-levels proper between the ages of 16 and 18.


David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, who wrote to the Department for Education just before the election calling for an inquiry said he was "absolutely delighted" by Estelle Morris's announcement.

"This is a very positive move from the new secretary of state who recognises that the confusion and chaos surrounding the delivery of the new exams must be resolved urgently in the interests of the next cohort of students," he said.

"Nothing can be done to save the damage done to students and their teachers in the first year but lessons have got to be learned and learned quickly if we are going to restore confidence in a broad and balanced curriculum, which is absolutely crucial to the future of our post-16 students."

The review has been welcomed too by the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, who has been anxious to differentiate between the widely-agreed need to broaden the sixth form curriculum, and the way this has been carried out. .

"We need to sort out the implementation problems quickly, but we must distinguish clearly between these and the structural problems which can only be addressed in the context of the whole qualifications system," he said.


"Many of the problems stem from the desire of governments to have far too many external examinations for young people.

"The introduction of the AS-level was a reform that we called for during the 1990s and we strongly supported Sir Ron Dearing's recommendation to introduce it as a half-way house to A-level.

"Unfortunately, the implementation timetable has been rushed and this has left inadequate time for examination boards and schools to put the reforms in place."

He also said the lack of clarity from universities, about how they will regard the new qualifications, had not helped matters.

"The university reaction has been particularly disappointing and has made it very difficult for teachers to advise students on whether to take more subjects and how much time to devote to gaining a qualification in Key Skills," he said.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, welcomed the review but said he would prefer a fundamental rethink of 14 to 19 education.

"The AS-levels were intended to broaden students' horizons. There is growing evidence that they are having the opposite effect.

"Many other worthy activities appear to have been crushed out of existence as the examinations bulldozer rolls on."

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See also:

12 Jun 01 | New exams
What's new
12 Jun 01 | Education
Examination debate is 'ill-timed'
11 Jun 01 | Education
Exam expert says 'too much testing'
06 Jun 01 | Education
Heads call for A-levels inquiry
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