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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 11 July, 2001, 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK
'Regret' over A-level changes
school corridor
Schools had trouble finding enough space for testing
The education secretary has apologised to students in schools and colleges across England, Wales and Northern Ireland for the botched introduction of the AS-level exams.

Sixth formers will in future be expected to sit fewer exam papers, after protests from students and teachers over exam overload.

Announcing changes for next year, Estelle Morris said: "All new exams take time to bed in, but the new AS has had more than its fair share of problems.

"I regret the extra stresses that have been put on students and their teachers."


We are determined to get the 'Curriculum 2000' reforms right so that high standards continue

Estelle Morris
She said she was now determined to get the reforms right so that A-levels could continue as "a crucial benchmark of quality".

Ms Morris said the changes to the exam system had been the most complex ever undertaken.

The underlying reason - to broaden the curriculum and provide greater flexibility - still had overwhelming support.

Ms Morris is going beyond what has been proposed in the urgent report she commissioned from the head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), David Hargreaves.

Exam timetables

The QCA had said it would look at the feasibility of having a single exam of three hours for most AS subjects, rather than a large number of separate papers.

Given the work this would involve it might not be possible to do this for all subjects by next summer.

So the exam timetable is to be restructured so that exams in the same subject are taken in a single sitting.

One of the biggest headaches in this first year was that the sheer volume of exam papers being taken put strains on schools' available accommodation.

Estelle Morris
Estelle Morris: Regret
And many more students than usual had to be put up overnight in teachers' homes because timetable clashes meant they had to sit their exams late.

Ms Morris has also asked Professor Hargreaves to assess course content from September.

"What I'm hearing from a lot of heads is that some of the content of the subject has been too much - the volume of content covered has been too much in some subjects," she said.

But she stressed the government would not move away from its desire for a broader curriculum.

Another big change is that students will only be asked to take the new Key Skills qualifications in subjects they have not covered adequately in other examinations.

This year, even someone doing a maths A-level was asked to do the numeracy Key Skill, for example.

Principle intact

But the present funding arrangements mean that colleges - and, from next year, all advanced level study centres, including school sixth forms - have extra money for entering students for Key Skills.

So Ms Morris is asking the new Learning and Skills Councils to review the funding set-up.


Too much tinkering, not enough radical pruning

Nigel de Gruchy
Students are being discouraged from taking AS unit exams before the end of their first year - and reminded that they can take the AS-levels along with the second part of their A-levels at the end of their second year of study.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), expressed disappointment with the results of the QCA enquiry.

"Too much tinkering, not enough radical pruning," Mr de Gruchy said.

"Leaving schools to believe that taking the exams early will be voluntary is disingenuous - there will still be pressure on them to ensure students take them before the summer, given the Ofsted inspection regime."

The modular nature of AS-Levels had been left largely untouched, adding to teachers' workload, he added.

University responsibility

The general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, said the announcement dealt with many of the problems thrown up by the implementation of the changes.


I call on all university departments to clarify their attitude to the new qualifications

John Dunford
"But I welcome the continuing support for the principle of the AS-level as a halfway house to A-level," he said.

"I call on all university departments to clarify their attitude to the new qualifications in the light of this study, so that schools can advise 16 year olds with confidence in September."

Universities have varied in the attitudes they have taken to the new exams. Schools have felt obliged to enter students for them, in case universities decide to give credit for them when considering applications for places.

But in general universities have made it clear that the main factor will still be final A-level grades.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mike Baker
"Students and teachers complained of overload"
Education Secretary Estelle Morris
"We can't get away from those sixth form years being a bit of a pressure"
John Bangs from the NUT
"These poor young people have been guinea pigs right through the system"
Qualifications chief, David Hargreaves
"I don't think the qualifications will be scrapped"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Exams slashed
Do the changes go far enough?

The latest on the new post-16 qualifications
Post-16 overload?

See also:

11 Jul 01 | UK Education
11 Jul 01 | UK Education
12 Jun 01 | New exams
12 Jun 01 | UK Education
26 Jun 01 | UK Education
12 Jun 01 | UK Education
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