This week’s Secret Teacher, a head of year 12, agrees (partly) with Michael Gove that A-levels need sorting out, but says he’s not going about it the right way. This is from the Guardian…
This week’s announced changes, to move to a system of an isolated AS qualification, and a two year, one-terminal-exam A2, will be looked at therefore by a balanced approach of weighing evidence. On the one hand, the justification given for changes is that there is a “compelling case” to move to a linear system. The only source mentioned is the Russell Group’s complaints of a decline in standards of the students coming to them. On the other side of the argument, we have every existing model for learning, and how the memory works. Feel free to Google, ask a psychologist or, lord forbid, a teacher. I did. From Baddeley & Hitch through Honey and Mumford, and including all the research into styles and methods of learning and knowledge retention, not one mentions summing up two years learning in one three hour exam as a good idea.
In summary then, on one side, the weight of learning since time immemorial, and the science of psychology. On the other, a man who says he has found a “compelling case for change”. Oh, and the people he’s doing it for have already come out as saying it’s a cack idea (thanks, Cambridge university!).
Declining standards may well exist. Given the sheer weight of students, and the extra chances they are given, applicant numbers went up to universities year on year for some time. I can believe, given the flawed system we use, that not all of them were as bright as they looked on paper. But to then say the way to fix this problem is to revert to the model of 20 years ago is like your computer breaking, and making everyone in the office use paper and pen. Why? Well, there’s a compelling case for it, trust me.
And here we get to the nub of it – and you might want to be sat down for this bit – I agree with Gove. A-levels need fixing. I even like that he’s got the universities in to say what should go into A-levels. That’s a good idea. The rest of it of course, is total cobblers, and as ruinous as it is vainglorious. But I don’t hear Stephen Twigg leaping in with any bright ideas. In many ways, he’s as bad. This reform is yet another gaping own goal that no-one in government, least of all the shadow education secretary, is addressing. So I will.
Let’s reform Ucas. Declare all results to all modules. This allows resits, but shows progression, or even worse, decline. Allow universities to choose if they will accept resit scores or not. Pre-enter the information digitally, so that students can’t lie or get the codes wrong. Allow the Russell Group to set their own entrance exams (some do already). I’ve no problem with an elitist tier of universities, who can select on whatever method they see fit. But the rest of the country deserves a shot at higher education, and those other universities deserve to stay open. Not everyone can go to university, it’s true. But more than the top 5% can. What of this overlooked chunk of the populace? Looking at history, pretending the less academically able don’t exist hasn’t ever worked out well for those in power, has it?