Dons despair over “predictable” A-Levels

Tristram Fane-Saunders 5 April 2012

University academics think “predictable” A-Level exams, too many re-sits, and a culture of “teaching to the test” are leaving students unprepared for higher education, according to Cambridge Assessment, the body that manages exam board OCR and Cambridge University’s internal examinations.

According to the study, 60% of universities now offer remedial ‘catch-up’ classes to help students who lack the basic education needed to cope with their course.

Mark Dawe, Chief Executive of OCR, has blamed this decline on “government-funded bodies” choosing the content of the exam curriculum, saying this can “disenfranchise university lecturers, tutors and admission staff.”

It seems the government has been listening. In a recent letter to Ofqual, the qualifications watchdog, Education Secretary Michael Gove told exam boards to “take a step back” from deciding the A Level syllabus, suggesting that Russell Group universities should “drive the system.”

Gove’s plan is that the 24 Russell Group universities would “determine subject content” for A-Level curriculae. It is believed that these new, tougher A Levels would help counteract grade inflation. Further possible changes include phasing out modular exams, and the coalition plans to introduce the new curriculum A Level as soon as 2014.

Cambridge Assessment’s Group Director of Public Affairs, Benet Steinberg, was delighted with Gove’s reaction. Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Cambridge Student, he criticised the “but-it-wasn’t-on-the-curriculum” attitude which A Levels are thought to inspire, pointing out that a reformed syllabus would encourage wider study.

He continued, “It’s about getting back to the roots of A Levels. For the last twenty years they’ve been thought of qualifications for life, or qualifications for jobs, but they were started as qualifications for university. It’s about producing undergraduates with thinking skills.”

Tristram Fane-Saunders