Exam standards fall in “race to the bottom”, MPs will say

From The Telegraph:

MPs will this week call for radical changes to the public examinations system to halt a decline in standards.

A report by the all-party Education Select Committee will say that the quality of GCSEs and A-levels has been compromised by a structure which allows competition between exam boards. […]

It is expected to call for the current system of multiple exam syllabuses jostling for business to be scrapped and replaced with one national syllabus for key GCSE subjects. […]

Competition would be removed in key subjects such as maths, English and science and possibly history, geography and modern foreign languages, the other subjects that make up the EBacc. […]

The report is also expected to recommend that exam boards ban the use of their logos and the reproduction of examination material in text books produced by commercial publishers marketed to specific qualifications.

Read full article.



Universities to set A-levels in new qualifications overhaul

 in The Telegraph:

Examiners will be expected to enlist the help of at least 20 British universities when drafting exam syllabuses and test questions as part of a major drive to raise standards, the Telegraph has learned.

All new qualifications will require a formal “sign-off” from universities – particularly leading research institutions – before being sat by sixth-formers.

The reforms, to be outlined on Tuesday by Ofqual, the qualifications regulator, are intended to ensure teenagers have the appropriate levels of subject knowledge and study skills required to get the most out of a degree course.

Read the whole article.


Universities to set A-levels

Later addition: see the letter from Michael Gove  and response from Glenys Stacey. A key phrase in Gove’s letter:

Different subjects have different requirements; I am interested in your views as to how the system should develop to allow for approaches to — for example — mathematics that provide for differential level of challenge.

From the Glenys Stacey’s response:

Making sure that A levels are fit for purpose means getting four things right: subject content (curriculum), teaching, assessment and level of demand. We would look to universities, working with learned societies and awarding organisations, to agree the subject content of A levels. Ofqual would be happy to work with whatever arrangements are put in place to do this, provided that they enable universities to develop high quality content. We will want to be sure that respected university departments and learned societies support the content defined for each new A level. Content will vary to some extent between different A levels in the same subject, but we would want to see all A levels being widely accepted. So even if a particular A level is developed by a small group of universities, we would want to see a significant number of key universities signed up to it. We will look to the university sector to put in place sensible arrangements for this as soon as possible.

From BBC:

The Russell Group of leading universities said they were “certainly willing to give as much time as we can into giving advice to the exam boards”.

But Wendy Piatt, the group’s director general, cautioned: “We don’t actually have much time and resource spare to spend a lot of time in reforming A levels.”

From The Guardian:

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 recognise academic excellence. This excellence is widely distributed across the UK’s higher education sector.”


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Exam boards in ‘race to the bottom’

From The Telegraph:

Exam boards are competing in a “race to the bottom” where they profit by setting pupils easier tests, the head of the Wellcome Trust will say next week.

Sir Mark Walport will argue that the competitive market between the three leading exam boards has pushed standards even lower since he led a critical review of science and mathematics teaching two years ago. [The rest of the article]

“University dons to vet A-level exam papers”

Julie Henry in  The Telegraph, 19 Feb 2012:

School exam papers are to be vetted by university academics in a radical overhaul of the A-levels set by one of the country’s biggest exam board.
Mathematicians, historians and scientists from leading universities are working with the OCR board on the design of new “gold standard” syllabuses and assessments.
Universities including Cambridge, Oxford, Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, University College London, Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool, Durham, Surrey, Warwick and York are involved in the programme which covers nine subject areas.

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