As of November, England’s exam watchdog, Ofqual, has made several changes to A-Levels, including a shift to summer-only exams and the introduction of a cap on re-sits. Prospective A-level students will now only have the chance to re-sit one exam per paper and students will no longer have the opportunity to sit January exams. 

Ofqual argues that the “re-sit culture” is taking away the opportunity of studying the subject “in-depth”. They also want greater input by universities on A-level exam design and procedure. However, some have argued that this will turn A-levels into university entry examinations. Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, commented that universities are reluctant to “take ownership” of the qualifications.

The changes have also been criticized by teachers who say that the changes could cause problems. Chris Keates, head of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said Ofqual had not shown any evidence that such an overhaul of A-levels was needed and that teachers and students would now face “huge turbulence and uncertainty”. She then stated that by taking re-sits away, the government are creating a process where it’s simply an elitist university entrance exam and not a qualification for young people as a whole.

To counter these claims, Andrew Hall, head of AQA examination body, said that “Even though we agree that re-sits are important, the continuous reliance of re-sits distort actual exam results.”

Universities UK have also argued that the plans were too “ambitious”; Dandridge noted that “Universities have an important role to play in developing A-level curriculum and in ensuring that A-level content supports progression to higher education. University academics and staff are already extensively engaged in this way and have been working with the awarding organisations for many years.”

Dandridge also added that A-Levels should “prepare” students for university and the wider world as a whole.

The introduction of both the IB and the Cambridge pre-U has played a role in changing landscape of further education. Although the A-level system is used across the globe, for example in Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe, many parents, students and schools have opted for the use of the IB and Cambridge pre-U because they’re seen as more challenging or more acceptable in the new globalised world.

Hadi Harb

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