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Sunday, 25 June, 2000, 23:38 GMT 00:38 UK
Schools 'to embrace exam reforms'
aerial shot of exam room
Students will take exams in a greater range of subjects
Schools and colleges are set to embrace the new sixth form curriculum when it comes into force in September, a survey suggests.

Figures published on Monday indicate that eight out of 10 students starting in the sixth form next term will take four new Advanced Subsidiary levels (AS-levels) next year, before going on to take three new A-levels in 2002.

They also suggest that more than one in 10 new sixth formers are planning to take five subjects at AS-level.

The survey was conducted by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas), to help universities and other higher education institutions see how the new system would be adopted.

They need to be aware of how the changes are going, as they will be faced with new qualifications and combinations of subjects when considering students' applications.


students getting results
Students will receive their AS-level results before applying to unversity

The aim of the new system is to broaden courses studied by lower sixth form students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, getting away from the traditional narrow specialism at A-level.

The diversification is optional, but students are being urged to take four or five of the new AS-level courses - each equal to half an A-level - in their first sixth form year, before continuing to A-level in three of the subjects.

A pass at AS-level counts as an exam credit in itself, even if a pupil decides not to continue a subject for a second year to A-level.

The system will allow students to continue combining arts and sciences beyond GCSEs.

Other reforms include a new qualification in "Key Skills" - information technology, numeracy and communications.

Higher education guide

For the survey, Ucas questioned nearly 2,000 comprehensive, grammar and independent schools, and sixth form and further education colleges.

The results suggest that less than 5% of students will take only three AS-level exams or less.

They also indicate that more than half of schools and colleges will teach the new vocational A-level - the former advanced GNVQ.

The publication of the survey results coincides with the release of Ucas's guide to the new sixth form curriculum, called Changes to Post-16 Qualifications.

The guide is designed to brief higher education staff on how to deal with the new qualifications.

Ucas's chief executive Tony Higgins said: "We are about to see a huge shift away from the tradition of sixth formers studying three subjects for two years.

"From this September most schools will be teaching four subjects and key skills in the first year of sixth form, with students dropping one subject to take three A-levels in the second year."

Nick Tate, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said: "The emphasis in the reforms is on greater flexibility and choice, and on creating the building blocks out of which to construct broader programmes of study."

Fears

Last year, fears about the new system were raised from a number of quarters.

A survey by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals suggested that university would not use the new qualifications when considering applications.

It indicated that entry requirements for most universities would still be based on the current A-level system.

The National Association of Head Teachers warned that students would be unlikely to choose to take extra exams unless they were compulsory, so schools would struggle to afford to provide extra courses.

Its general secretary, David Hart, added that unless universities insisted on students having the new qualifications, the problem would be reinforced.

But the government has continued to defend the reforms.

Education Minister Baroness Blackstone told head teachers earlier this year that changes to the system will not lead to a drop in standards.

Her message following the publication of the UCAS survey on Monday was also positive.

She said: "The enthusiasm for studying more reflects an increasing willingness by universities to use the new AS-levels as part of their entry requirements.

"I hope all will do so - not least as they offer better predictions than GCSEs for likely A-level achievement."

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See also:

14 Feb 00 | Northern Ireland
All change for A-level students
12 Jan 00 | Education
No new money for A-level reforms
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