Pressat reports that the distance learning provider the National Extension College (NEC) warns today that adults who want to improve their qualifications by studying as private candidates risk falling through the cracks of a rigid GCSE and A level exam system designed for pupils at school or college.
This is in line with OFFA’s (Office for Fair Access) most recently published annual report, which criticises the higher education sector for ‘failing to do enough to encourage mature students and those taking part-time courses. Both groups have seen the biggest falls in participation since tuition fees were raised to £9,000 in 2012, and are showing few signs of recovery.’
The distance learning charity argues that if the government is to be successful in widening participation in higher education by people over the age of 21 and halting the decline in the numbers of mature and part-time students, it needs to make practical support for adults who have left compulsory education a priority.
Removing barriers to accessing GCSEs and A level qualifications would also help increase the numbers of people studying STEM subjects and contribute to the government’s targets for recruiting teachers and nurses.
NEC’s five-point plan to remove the barriers faced by independent learners
Barrier 1 – Finding an exam centre willing to accept private candidates
Schools and colleges are not required to accept exam entries from private candidates. As a result, private candidates studying GCSEs and A levels often struggle to find an exam centre in a school or college that will allow them to sit their exams alongside other students.
The solution: exam boards be required to sponsor and operate fairly-priced open exam centres for all students not studying at a school or college who want to sit GCSEs and A levels.
Barrier 2 – The cost of entering for A level science practical endorsements
As well as paying out of their own pocket for their course and exam fees, private candidates studying science A levels also have to pay several hundred pounds per subject to take the practical endorsement.
The solution: the proposed open exam centres offer science practical endorsements for biology, chemistry and physics, with government bursaries available to help students fund the cost.
Read more recommensations Adult GCSE and A level students are at risk of falling through the cracks of England’s exam system
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