A major A-level overhaul

From The Telegraph, by  :

[…] on Wednesday Mr Gove will set out a further reform of the qualification – effectively turning the clock back to the 90s before exams were overhauled by Labour.

[…] under the new plan:

• AS-levels will become a standalone qualification with results no longer counting towards final A-level marks;

• Pupils will be able to take new-style AS-levels over one or two years, with qualifications covering exactly half the content of the full version;

• Full A-levels will be completely separate from AS and turned into “linear” qualifications, with all exams sat at the end of the two-year course.

[…] The move is likely to prove controversial among some universities because it will stop them using AS marks to award provisional places on degree courses.

[…] the Russell Group […] would form a new academic board to advise Ofqual on the content of A-levels.

Read the full article.

Alan Milburn’s report on social mobility

Independent Reviewer’s report on Higher Education (called in media “Alan Milburn’s Report“) is published today. Here is one of the bits related to mathematics:

Equalising skills
Universities can do more to ensure that students have the essential skills they require to complete their degrees. Applicants from

disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to have developed certain skills, such as essay writing. Clearly some university courses will rightly require a high level of prior knowledge, for example, some science subjects require students to have a high degree of mathematical knowledge on day one in order to succeed. Other courses will have far fewer direct constraints. […]

Universities should consider what support they can provide to help particular groups of under-represented students succeed in completing their studies. In some cases, this will require assessing what skills universities require students to have in advance and which ones they can develop after admission.

BIS on AAB+/ABB+ threshold

Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) published Government Response on Consultation “Students at the Heart of the System“. Two points relevant to mathematics:

(A) Unconstrained recruitment of students with AAB+/ABB+ is to stay:

2.2.52 HEFCE’s decision that institutions will retain a student number limit equal to at least 20% of their 2011-12 numbers also means that for the institutions that currently recruit a very high proportion of AAB+ students, there will still be a core to make contextual data offers, and they will still be able to expand if they choose to. HEFCE will look at how best to achieve a similar outcome for 13/14, with the introduction of ABB+. […]

[p. 33] However we are clear that our tariff policy (allowing unconstrained recruitment of students with AAB+ and equivalent grades for 2012/13 and ABB+ from 2013/14) should not impact negatively on fair access to higher education by taking away places from people from disadvantaged backgrounds. […]

(B) But mathematics is excluded from “contestable margin”:

1.4 […] [F]rom 2013/14 the tariff policy should be further liberalised to apply to students with ABB+ grades, taking one in three entrants out of number controls. We also announced that a further 5,000 places should be made available through the contestable margin. […]

2.2.53. We also welcome the way in which HEFCE has implemented our core and margin policy. In particular we welcome the fact that: […]

Student numbers in chemistry, engineering, mathematics, physics and modern foreign languages will be excluded from the calculation to create the margin.

Regarding (A), BIS recognises that

2.2.42. Many respondents expressed the view that AAB+ grades are harder to achieve in STEM subjects and warned of the potential consequences for the supply of STEM graduates. They were concerned that unconstrained recruitment would lead to students choosing to study subjects in which they are most likely to achieve AAB+ grades, and to institutions favouring those courses where they can attract large numbers of high-achieving students.

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.


UCAS: Phasing out tariff points

From THE:

Tariff points should be phased out by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, a Ucas review unveiled on 9 February recommends.

It calls for their “gradual withdrawal” when setting entry requirements and making offers.

Instead, it proposes, all higher education offers should be grade-based.

Many universities have already stopped using the Ucas tariff-point system, which compares A levels with about 1,400 level-3 qualifications, including the IB.

A consultation is under way until 16 April, with a decision on the plans expected in June.

UCAS Announcement (with a link to consultation document)

Government ‘considers lowering AAB threshold’

The previous story is more relevant to mathematics if one takes into account an earlier news, also from THE and also by  John Gill.

Delays to the annual grant letter may be down to government plans to announce an easing of the AAB rules that are to introduce competition for students between institutions.

From 2012-13, universities will be able to recruit as many students as they want provided they have grades of AAB or better at A-level, part of a two-pronged plan by the coalition to introduce competition into the sector. […]

AAB threshold has a potential to seriously affect uptake of Mathematics and especially of Further mathematics A levels by schoolchildren. Therefore the following news is of importance and needs a careful assessment. John Gill:

Now it has been suggested that the government, which has indicated a desire to extend the policy in future years, is planning to lower the grade limit to ABB in 2013-14.

The Times newspaper says the proposal had been due to be included in the grant letter, which had been expected to be sent out to institutions yesterday.

It reports that but that ministers have asked the Higher Education Funding Council for England for additional analysis on its potential impact, resulting in further delay to the letter.

The paper quotes an unnamed “government source” as saying: “Our view is that we would like to move to ABB.”