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Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
New exams 'worth the hassle'
delayed airport passengers
Holidays do not always start smoothly...
The head of the joint exams council has said the difficult implementation of the new AS-levels was like going on holiday.

Paul Sokoloff, convenor of the Joint Council for General Qualifications - representing the five exam boards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - bemused journalists when he came up with the analogy.


The problems are not in the exams themselves they are in all the administration

Qualifications convenor, Paul Sokoloff
"You set off. You get to the airport. The airport is chaotic and confused," he explained as he briefed them on this year's exam results.

"The staff don't quite know what to do. They're very helpful but it's a lot of confusion.

"Your flight's delayed. The hotel's double booked.

"But actually when you get there it's a damn good holiday. You thoroughly enjoy it. You go back there again."

Tough going

He said the "double booking of the hotel" - the timetable clashes caused by the sheer volume of exams being taken - had to be sorted out, but it was worth doing.


It's the first year teachers have come to terms with it and the first year that students have seen these exams and the results are very good

"The problems are not in the exams themselves they are in all the administration."

Jaymina Ruparelia, from Moseley School in Birmingham, sat nine AS-level exams in a total of four subjects and found it too much.

But she passed them all, with two As, one B, four Cs and two Es.

"I passed all my exams but it was a lot of work and it was a lot of subjects and altogether and it was too stressful," she said.

Jaymina plans to drop a subject and to resit some papers in January.

Results withheld

The head of the exams council, Mr Sokoloff, said the new exams had proved to be a great success, with a pass rate of 86.6% and 17% of entries achieving grade A.

school sorting results envelopes
More than a million results were delivered
The joint council knows but has not published the results of all the AS exams that were taken this year - only about four fifths of them.

This is because it reports only final qualifications - and students have to choose whether or not to "cash in" their AS-levels.

Cashing in means they declare them and get a certificate which they must use on their university application forms this autumn.

The National Association of Head Teachers had warned that the publication of the results could present an "inadequate and distorted picture".

'Not easy'

But the joint qualifications council estimates that about 80% of students had cashed in 794,117 qualifications - which its convenor, Paul Sokoloff, called "a huge sample" on which to pass judgement.

He said that taking account of the results that were not known but not published, the picture would change only marginally.


Any judgment on the success of the AS must await the full A-level results for those students in a year's time

Head teachers' leader John Dunford
Asked why the pass rate was not as high as in the old A-levels, he said: "The AS is not an easy exam. It is a stiff and demanding examination.

"It's the first year teachers have come to terms with it and the first year that students have seen these exams and the results are very good.

"I don't think there's any evidence to show that the relatively small disruption to timetables has had any material effect on the results."

University caution

Mr Sokoloff said AS-levels brought universities a step closer to being able to offer places to prospective students on the basis of known results - rather than predicted A-levels and their previous GCSEs, as at present.


For too long, as a nation, we have lagged behind our competitors, but we are on track to catch up

Education Minister Stephen Timms
Many university admissions officers have taken a wait-and-see attitude to the qualification.

Mr Sokoloff said: "I believe that the universities will very soon move towards acceptance of AS-levels."

But John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said AS-level results had to be treated with "caution".

"They represent the first half of an A-level for the 80% of candidates who elected to cash in their results.

"Any judgment on the success of the AS must await the full A-level results for those students in a year's time."

Broader studies

England's School Standards Minister, Stephen Timms, said one of the main aims of the new exam - to broaden the range of sixth form study - had been achieved.

The joint council estimates that there has been a 24% increase in participation over last year.

"For too long, as a nation, we have lagged behind our competitors, but we are on track to catch up," Mr Timms said.

'Need for change'

The Liberal Democrats' education spokesperson David Rendel said students, universities and employers now faced a "bewildering array" of results and the government must consider how to simplify the structure of further education.

"Students need a flexible credit based system, like the European Baccalaureate, which recognises that not everyone will go on to university," he said.

A Conservative spokesman, Tim Boswell, said it was clear problems remained with the new system.

"Conservatives will support any attempt by the government to have a thorough and wide-ranging review of the new system looking at the exams themselves, and their effect on the wider curriculum."

Exam results in the UK

GCSEs/GNVQs

A/AS-levels

Success stories

Features

Row over new exams

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TALKING POINT

Go to BBC Student EssentialsExam results?
Essential advice and information for students
See also:

16 Aug 01 | UK Education
30 Mar 01 | UK Education
26 Jun 01 | UK Education
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