In parts of the United Kingdom universities- not the Department for Education- gain control over Advanced Level (A-levels) education

A-level students often apply to universities in the United Kingdom. British universities (including Scottish universities, which receive many applicants taking A-levels). Students in England study General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) over 2 years, from the age of 15, and take GCSE exams at the end of this period.  These are the final years of their compulsory high school education.  At this point, students can either leave school and get a job, or go on to further studies.

Universities gain control over A-levels education in parts of the UK

SkyNews

Universities – not the Department for Education – will get control over A-levels in a shake-up designed to ensure students have the right knowledge and skills.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has said he does not see the Government having a role in developing the qualifications in future.

“This means that government must take a step back in order to allow universities to take a leading role,” he wrote in a letter to Glenys Stacey from exam regulator Ofqual .
“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,” the letter continues.

He tells her he was “troubled” by reports from organizations including the Institute of Physics suggesting sixth-form studies do not properly prepare students for undergraduate degrees.
The Russell Group of universities – top research institutions including Oxford and Cambridge – will play a significant role, he added.

According to the letter, pupils will start learning the A-level courses from 2014 and take the first exams in 2016.

The move would not affect Scottish exam boards as education has been devolved.

The Education Secretary is also considering scrapping modules and resits, as he fears they undermine confidence in the exams.
Mr Gove has already overseen a shake-up of schools which saw the number of academies rapidly increase and Free Schools – state financed but independent of state control – open.

http://news.sky.com/home/uk-news/article/16201538

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Universities express fears about the education secretary’s Michael Gove plan for lecturer-set A-levels

Headteachers and examiners also question education secretary’s idea of universities setting content of exams

 Education Secretary Michael Gove. In 2010, Gove was appointed the Secretary of State for Education. The Secretary of State for Education  is the chief minister of the Department for Education in the United Kingdom government.

Jessica Shepherd, education correspondent
The Guardian (UK)

Universities, headteachers (school principal) and examiners have expressed concern over the coalition’s plans to ask lecturers to set A-level exams in two years’ time, claiming that the system is “not broken”.

Michael Gove, the education secretary, has written to the qualifications watchdog, Ofqual, calling for exam boards and ministers to “take a step back” from dictating the content of the exams.

Instead, the 24 most academically competitive universities will be allowed to “drive the system” by setting questions and deciding what topics students will need to know. Schools will be advised to put their pupils in for only those A-levels that have been approved by the universities.

“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,” Gove’s letter to Ofqual states.

But million+, which represents 26 of the new universities, said setting A-level questions was a “much more complex task than simply getting a few academics together”. Pam Tatlow, chief executive of million+, warned that employers should also be involved in setting the exams.

She said academics told ministers that the A-level system was “not broken” at a meeting earlier this year. “Ministers appear to have ignored this advice,” she said.

Universities said it should not just be left to the most competitive universities to steer the content of A-levels. Mark Fuller, director of communications of the 1994 Group, which represents small, research-intensive universities, said it was “absolutely right that leading universities and academics have an influence on A-level qualifications alongside others, including employers”.

He said: “This influence must not be restricted to any single group of institutions which, by definition provide higher education only for a minority of 18-year-olds. Universities and employers need A-levels which are robust, fit for purpose and which recognize academic excellence. This excellence is widely distributed across the UK’s higher education sector.”

Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said universities already had a “big job to do” in educating undergraduates. “We also have a lot to do in conducting research and making sure that research has an impact on the economy. So we don’t actually have much time and resource spare to spend a lot of time in reforming A-levels. We have to see exactly what these proposals are, but we are certainly willing to give as much time as we can into giving advice to the exam boards and to the department and we will do our best.”

Headteachers also urged caution over the plans. Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said A-levels were not just designed to prepare teenagers for university. They were also “a springboard for apprenticeships or entry into work”, he said.

“I fear that some of Gove’s concerns are based on an unrealistic expectation of what an examination can accomplish,” he said. “Academic achievement is not synonymous with employability skills and a good education must provide both.”

He said he doubted whether universities were better placed than exam boards to undertake “the highly complex task of setting examinations for many thousands of 18-year-olds, or indeed would wish to do so”.

Top public schools said it would be “unwise” for ministers to give universities “total control” of A-levels.

Peter B Hamilton, chair of the HMC, an association of 250 leading public schools and private schools, said those who taught 17- and 18-year-olds knew best what they needed. “Input from successful sixth-form teachers will be equally important in getting an examination system fit for the 21st century,” he said.

In Gove’s letter to Ofqual, he says he will review whether pupils should continue to be allowed to take modules, exams that are sat throughout their A-levels, rather than at the end of their courses.

But Max Nielsen, a German A-level examiner from West Sussex, said modules helped students find out before the end of their courses that they were not going to get top grades. This meant they could change subjects during their courses. “The danger is that, if they only have an exam at the end of their course, they will have nothing to show for a subject if they don’t do well in it,” he said.

When A-levels were introduced in the early 1950s, they were set by universities and seen as rigorous preparation for degree courses.

Gove’s move is likely to lead to fewer students achieving top grades, the abolition of modules and retakes – other than in exceptional circumstances – and longer essay questions in exams.

The coalition wants the new A-levels to be taught from as soon as 2014. Students would sit the exams two years later. Initially, the changes would affect English, maths and science A-levels in England, but would soon be rolled out to all subjects and across the UK.

In his letter, Gove says Ofqual must ensure university ownership of the exams is “real and committed, not a tick-box exercise”.

“I do not envisage the Department for Education having a role in the development of A-level qualifications,” he says. “It is more important that universities are satisfied that A-levels enable young people to start their degrees having gained the right knowledge and skills than that ministers are able to influence content or methods of assessment.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/apr/03/gove-university-set-a-levels

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