Michael Gove wants universities to create new A-levels
Published: 2nd Apr 2012 21:46:24
Education Secretary Michael Gove has sent a letter to examinations regulator Ofqual in which he says universities should create a new set of A-levels.
In the letter, seen by BBC Newsnight, Mr Gove says he "does not envisage the Department for Education having a role" in developing the new qualifications.
Mr Gove says he is concerned that A-levels are failing to properly prepare students for university.
He goes on to say preparing students is the primary role of the A-level.
Formal control of A-level content will now be taken away from exam boards and handed to universities who will in future, according to a letter obtained by Newsnight, now be asked to "drive the system".
He writes: "It is important that this rolling back allows universities…to drive the system."
Leading university academics tell me that A-levels do not prepare students well enough for the demands of an undergraduate degree, and I am troubled by reports from learned bodies such as the Institute of Physics.”
Exam boards will still set the courses but a school will now only be advised to put its students in for it if the course has been approved by a Russell Group university.
He has asked Ofqual to have oversight over this new regime: "I will expect the bar to be a high one: university ownership of the exams must be real and committed, not a tick-box exercise."
Newsnight has been given the letter the secretary of state sent to Ofqual on Friday.
He told them: "I do not envisage the Department for Education having a role in the development of A level qualifications. It is more important that universities are satisfied that A-levels enable young people to start their undergraduate degrees having gained the right knowledge and skills, than that Ministers are able to influence content or methods of assessment.
"I am particularly keen that universities should be able to determine subject content, and that they should endorse specifications, including details of how the subject should be assessed."
He goes on: "I am increasingly concerned that current A levels - though they have much to commend them - fall short of commanding the level of confidence we would want to see.
"Leading university academics tell me that A-levels do not prepare students well enough for the demands of an undergraduate degree, and I am troubled by reports from learned bodies such as the Institute of Physics. I know that your own research has identified particular concerns regarding both subject content and assessment at A-level."
This is a big political and cultural change.
The onus will now be on universities to ensure the students coming through to them are of the standard they would like to teach.
There will be a knock-on further down the education system as primary has to be toughened to meet the demands of secondary to in turn meet the demands of A-levels and so on.
This will mean an era of grade deflation, fewer students will get the top marks. Mr Gove's letter also makes clear that if universities want the system of modules to be done away with then, so be it.
In his letter, he says: "The discussions I have had with university academics and school and college leaders on the subject of A-levels have left me concerned about the impact of the current modular structure on students' education, and their ability to make the connections between different topics within a subject that are so crucial for deep understanding."
He says he looks forward to views on this, especially on the efficacy of modules taken in January "together with the impact of resitting on confidence in A-level standards."
All of this is also intensely political because Michael Gove does not imagine that any future Labour or Liberal government will be able to unpick these changes.
"What future government is going to take this involvement away from universities?", a source asks me.
This is from the Gove school of hard knocks. It may be painful, but standards have to go up if Britain's future workforce is going to have the skills it needs to compete in the future. There is this and other announcements on the curriculum due in the next few months - expect the same principle to be applied to GCSEs, maybe in a more extreme form.
The government is taking action because of leaps and bounds being made elsewhere in the field of scientific inquiry.
Sebastian Thrun, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at Stanford, recently opened his course up to anyone to take, no matter where they lived in the world.
A quarter of a million people took up his offer.
"World-leading publications like Science and Nature are producing their own curricula and online textbook," my source says.
"Many pupils may decide that such courses offer them far more than state controlled exams of questionable value," he adds.
It will take time for the ramifications to be fully understood. There are those universities who have an excellent department catering for a particular subject but whose overall record is not matchless - they may feel peeved. And there will be those at exam boards who will feel that universities do not know the first thing about the intricacies of testing students
There is one more thing: the secretary of state wants all of this to "make rapid progress". If you are due to take your A-levels in 2016, your exams may be a bit harder.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. Michael Gove wants universities to create new A-levels. [Online] (Updated 02 Apr 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news.php/1420258-Michael-Gove-wants-universities-to-create-new-A-levels [Accessed 25th May 2013]
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