Page last updated at 09:35 GMT, Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Tories want traditional A-level to 'restore confidence'

By Margaret Ryan
BBC News

Michael Gove
Children must do exams because of their "intrinsic value" says Mr Gove

Traditional A-levels could be reintroduced with exams at the end of two years under Conservative plans to overhaul the qualifications system.

Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said they needed to "restore confidence" in the system.

He was responding to a review, commissioned by the Tories, which criticised an "obsession" with targets.

Mr Gove said he would want to consult universities on its proposal that students sit standard entrance exams.

On GCSEs, he said maths and English should be tested but he would consult on what else should be assessed at 16.

The review into the future of qualifications and assessments says A-levels currently fail to show how much students know or to help universities decide on which candidates to choose.

Our recommendations give children, young people and teachers much more time to learn and to teach
Sir Richard Sykes

It recommends a return to end-of-course exams in some A-level subjects saying they should not automatically be broken up into bite-sized modules and that AS-levels would no longer be required to be part of A-levels. The format of a qualification should be decided depending on the subject.

Under the current system, teenagers take AS-level exams after one year of study, before deciding whether to take the A-level in the second year.

It recommends A-levels be reformed to give universities a bigger role in deciding their content.

New league tables would give rank schools more on where students went after school - for example, which job they went into or which university they attended as well as their exam results.

It says the government should consult with universities on the idea of a standardised admissions test to supplement A-levels and other grades. Such a test should measure language, mathematics and reasoning skills, says the report.

The review, led by Sir Richard Sykes, former rector of Imperial College London, also says schools should not be tempted to enter students for exams at 16 just to improve their league table standing.

It wants external assessment at that age eventually to be reduced to a minimum.

Less testing

Mr Gove welcomed many of the review's findings, saying A-levels had become increasingly "nationalised" and "used to flatter government performance" and needed to be reformed.

"This report will help in the battle to restore confidence in our curriculum and testing system," he said.

He also said there needed to be external testing of maths and English at 16 but he would consult on whether or not children needed to take fewer exams at 16.

"We need to ensure children pursue qualifications because of their intrinsic value, not because they help schools to 'game' the system.

"Critically, I think we also need to see how we can develop a much sharper focus on what happens to students when they leave school.

"Destination data, which tells us if students are moving into high quality apprenticeships, satisfying jobs or good college and university courses, will give parents real world information about how well schools are doing."

He stopped short of sharing the author's view that the name GCSEs should be abolished.

Speaking at a press conference to launch the review, Sir Richard said there should be assessments of children at 16, but they should not be called GCSEs because they had become so "devalued".

Mr Gove said this was not his view and a "rose by any other name would smell as sweet".

Sir Richard said: "Our recommendations give children, young people and teachers much more time to learn and to teach."

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