Our A level consultation

Last week we launched our latest consultation on A level reform.  It covers a number of important issues, including our proposals for the role of non-exam assessment in the subjects going forward for teaching in 2015, and the design of the new AS qualifications.

It is always interesting to see the initial reactions when we set out proposals in this way, particularly the media coverage. I see that quite a lot of the stories about the latest proposals focus on the issue of malpractice, or cheating. That’s understandable, because it makes for good headlines. But it is far from being the full story behind the proposals.

To be quite clear, as regulator of course we want to make sure qualifications are designed in such a way that protects against students or schools and colleges not playing fair. And yes, we do think there are better ways to do this than we see in some of the current arrangements.

But the aim here is not just more secure tests. It is far greater than that. It is assessment arrangements that better fit the subjects, that support the best teaching and learning and which better prepare students for their next steps, particularly the demands of higher education.

We propose that exams should be the default form of assessment, but there are clearly subjects where coursework or practical skills must also play a role. Where this is the case, these assessments must be manageable for schools, provide valid results and minimise the risk of malpractice. And the balance between the different forms of assessment should be clear and make sense.

Fieldwork is important to geography so we are proposing bringing coursework back there. And we suggest that art should remain 100 per cent coursework. Our proposals for the science subjects are a little different to the others. We propose that practical skills should be tested, with the results reported separately and not counted as part of the final grade.

We have found that the current arrangements lead to predictable practical assessments, which leads schools to focus on the skills they know will be tested. We want them to be able to focus on the full range of practical skills, which will be far more interesting and engaging for teachers and students.

We also found that the assessments don’t differentiate very well between students. The results tend to be bunched together at the top end. This means they add very little value to the qualification.  I think there is a great opportunity in the sciences for exam boards to design specifications and exam assessments that really enable students to learn a much wider range of experimentation, and practical assessments that are less predictable and that better suit them for progression to higher education studies in the sciences.

We think the proposals represent an improved set of assessment arrangements. The consultation runs for 12 weeks, until January 17 2014, and it is a real opportunity for people to have their say.  I ask everyone to read the consultation document in full and consider the reasons behind our proposals - and then let us know what you think. 

Glenys Stacey
Chief Regulator


  1. Andy Surrey

    I have read the consultation and wonder why very important subjects such as Design & Technology based areas such as product Design, Food, Textiles etc are not mentioned.

    Please can you comment on this.



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    • Glenys Stacey

      We announced earlier in the year that we would be starting off the A level reform programme with the highest volume subjects, such as English, history, psychology and art and design. The current subject requirements for these subjects were reviewed over the summer, and A levels in most of these subjects will be reformed for first teaching in 2015. We will be saying more in the new year about the arrangements for reviewing and reforming A levels in other subjects, including design and technology. We expect that most of these subjects will be redeveloped for first teaching from 2016.

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