'New' A Levels - today's announcement

(65 Posts)
BidRed Wed 23-Jan-13 15:11:10

Another issue has just come up today; the proposal to change the A Levels back to where they were in my day – exam-based.

I do understand why this has been proposed – the Universities and Employers are worried about the drop in standards of the current A levels.

However, there is a big debate starting about how boys do better in exams rather than coursework and that anyway coursework is 'easy' and/or is all down by the parent and therefore cheating.

Essentially, Mr Gove is saying that girls cheat and because they are getting better standards than the boys and have pushed up the pass mark, he wants to go back to the old method which is favoured by boys and will push the girls back down again.

Is this all part of a scheme to get women back in their rightful place of in the home; looking after all generations thereby decreasing the bill for looking after both pre-schoolers and the older generation, and also freeing up jobs for the boys therefore decreasing the unemployment numbers?

All in one go, what a brilliant plan.

If you choose to stay at home, absolutely FINE, but if you can't/don't want to .... ?

Just a little bit sexist though, don’t you think? We are 52% of the vote don’t forget – good old Emily!

What do you think of this plan?

scissy Thu 24-Jan-13 16:46:45

I can't help but think this is going backwards. Most Unis teach modular courses with coursework, plus I've never had to sit "an exam" at work, but I've had to write loads of reports wink

The main problem seems to be with Jan exams breaking up the year and people milking the system by resitting multiple times. Which is strange, because I was one of the first to sit the new system and I was told "only 1 retake allowed (per module), if you want to retake again then you have to resit the entire qualification" (and hence retake the year!). When did it change? They're already scrapping January exams, maybe they should impose rules against multiple resits?

Muminwestlondon Thu 24-Jan-13 17:16:21

LaQueen, being spoon fed and re-taking modules is certainly not the case in my DD's school. In fact the teachers made the point at the beginning of Sixth Form that the girls have to work out answers for themselves.

The exams are not "easy". Her school is one of the top performing according to the league tables out today; if that was the case everyone would get A* in everything, those that get A or A* have to work bloody hard as well as being very able. It was easier in my day (25 years ago) when it was pretty much a memory test!

Yellowtip Thu 24-Jan-13 17:38:50

Completely agree with Muminwestlondon. From the perspective of a similar ranking school too. You can't achieve an A* at A2 without being very able as well as prepared to put in the work.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Thu 24-Jan-13 17:45:55

I also think the appropriateness of final exams as opposed to continual assessment varies according to subject.

squeezedatbothends Thu 24-Jan-13 20:39:18

Lauren, what exactly is a terminal exam at the end of two years meant to test? A narrow slice of knowledge written under pressure in which those who write fast and think fast pass and those who don't, don't. Then at university, we want them to think slowly and carefully, weigh up options, read widely, balance out opinions, write thousands of words in dissertations, sit vivas and give presentations and so on and so on.....because in the workplace, they'll need to write reports over periods of time, make balanced, well considered decisions, give presentations and interact with other people. A levels don't prepare anyone for any kind of future in this world. Why are we so hung up on them?

Yellowtip Thu 24-Jan-13 22:04:50

Universities differ widely in their method of assessment squeezed. Some top end ones assess only on terminal exams in up to nine subjects all examined at the end of year three.

LadyLetch Fri 25-Jan-13 12:58:37

I think this is a real backwards step. In my subject, first year students cannot take january exams (they can only do this as a resit) because all the material is assessed after one year's study.

However, my concern about going back to two years and abandoning the AS is the lack of flexibility that there will be for students. When I did my A levels, I took A level French on a bit of a whim, and spent the next two years regretting that choice. I did badly with it, and regretted it so much, that years later I went back and did the A level I should have done all along and got an A.

If students are signed up for a 2 year A level, then they need to be very clear that that is the right A level for them. But, when I interview students for my college, so many of them do not know what it is they want to do for their A levels, let alone university. This is made worse now that connexions and most careers advice have gone in schools. I see so many students who come up not really knowing what they want to do with their life, without any guidance at all. At least under the current system, there is a bit of flexibility and that if students make the wrong choice, they can get the AS and change after a year... This won't be available under the new system.

mummytime Fri 25-Jan-13 13:12:02

Okay, there used to always be December/January re-sits, you just had to resit the whole a'level or O'level. Even at Uni there were September resits, I had to resit my second year to pass all papers so I could proceed. (I have a friend who resit A'levels because of illness in the summer, I resit one O'level).

The big issue used to be that as O'levels were sat in may/June, there was a definite effect from hay-fever; there was a lot of debate on how unfair this was.

Finally if you don't allow any coursework, then in some subjects you have to have practical exams. Will these allow preparation time, as happens at present in for example DT? Or will it be a return to the horribly stressful practical exam's in science? Which were one of the aspects of my A'levels I hated most.

But then when both Oxford and Cambridge complain about one of Gove's bright ideas, you have to wonder if he will listen to anyone.
Maybe the exam boards can bring in iA'levels, like iGCSEs. I suspect so e schools may use iGCSEs rather than the new EBC at least while the new system sorts out its teething problems.

LaQueen Fri 25-Jan-13 16:14:19

"Then at university, we want them to think slowly and carefully, weigh up options, read widely, balance out opinions,"

Well I'm sure that's what a university would like their students to do...but, I think any clever student, worth their salt, who was good at their chosen subject was perfectly capable of dashing off a pretty decent piece of coursework, the day before it was due in, whilst struggling with a raging hangover...

Or was that just me, and my mates hmm

I know DH only attended 3 lectures in his final year at university (I know for a fact because I basically lived with him). Didn't stop him getting a good degree.

If you have a decent ability in your subject, then you can pull fairly impressive results out of the bag with relatively little effort - or at least you could 18 years ago.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Fri 25-Jan-13 16:25:08

I certainly think that is different according to subject at degree level. In Eng Lit, the whole point, and what we want them to be able to do at the end of it all, is think through an argument, engage in proper research, spend hours in the library and produce something lengthy at the end. After all, that's exactly what you'd need to do at the next stage of MA and then Phd.

You could certainly write a clever essay the night before, if you were clever: but you couldn't toss off a load of research and reading the evening before it was due.

chickenyummychicken Fri 25-Jan-13 16:45:23

i have always told my kids that when i took exams it was actually possible to fail!

ShipwreckedAndComatose Fri 25-Jan-13 16:49:01

Believe me, students do actually fail A levels.

The difference is that now they get weeded out at the AS stage whereas in our day, a student could go along in blissful delusion for two years before finally realising they were not cut out for the course...

figroll Fri 25-Jan-13 16:52:24

I did old style A levels and it was great - I just dossed for the lower sixth and then cranked it up a gear for the upper sixth and did fine (and I am girl too). The current system of AS levels followed by A2s means that you have a year to ease into A level study and the exam results help universities to sort the wheat from the chaff. University study is modular so why not A level? It also means that those kids who decide it isn't for them can leave with some qualifications (AS levels) rather than just totally failing like some of my friends did back in the day.

Thankfully my youngest leaves school this year and I am so glad that she isn't going to be exposed to all these changes (although we have this blasted £9.000 fee to contend with). I am sick to death of politicians, the media and self appointed 'experts' getting involved in what children should be learning.

It is said that the new A levels will enable kids time to 'read around' their subjects. Well I don't know if Mr Gove knows many 16 year old kids, but I think that very unlikely. I used to spend most of my time hanging about with my friends certainly not in the library reading around Physic, Chemistry or Maths A level.

There is so little credit given to kids for the hard work that they put in. My dds have both worked tirelessly for their results, whereas I did a bit of panic revision at the end of the 2 years - and I passed well enough to get into a decent university. The reason that both my children have done better than I did, is probably because I was a lazy so and so who most definitely 'could have tried harder'.

LaQueen Fri 25-Jan-13 16:54:57

Ship I don't think students were blissfully delusional years ago...if they consistently only got D/Es for their essays during the 2 years of their A Level course, then it came as no surprise to them (or anyone else) when they only came out with a D/E for the final exams.

LaQueen Fri 25-Jan-13 16:56:54

Ship I'm talking about students who humanities A Levels, where essays were regularly handed in, and then you had your mock exams, too.

I don't know the criteria for science A levels, as I didn't do any.

ShipwreckedAndComatose Fri 25-Jan-13 16:58:40

A D/E was always a pass..

I thought we were talking about those that fail confused

And yes, a great deal of students had a 'it'll be alright on the day' attitude to their work back then...

ShipwreckedAndComatose Fri 25-Jan-13 16:59:34

I did English A level and sciences.

It was true on both types of course...

webwiz Fri 25-Jan-13 17:02:45

But if you were struggling there wasn't anything you could do about it - I realised I shouldn't have taken physics A level but it was too late to change and because you only did 3 subjects I couldn't drop it. I prefer the flexibility of 4 AS levels as I've found with my DCs and their contemporaries that it is often a subject that they thought they would really enjoy and do well at that ends up being dropped at the end of year 12.

newgirl Fri 25-Jan-13 17:06:52

I thought the point of coursework was to take the stress out of the final exam and make it fairer for all. So this puts the stress back in.

I don't think boys necessarily handle stress better than girls - completely down to the individual

LaQueen Fri 25-Jan-13 17:13:28

Ship yes, a D/E was a pass - but what I meant was that students consistently getting D/E for essays through the 2 years, weren't going to be expecting to get a A/B in their final exams.

They would know that they weren't really all that good at the subject - so they weren't deluded as you say, into merrily thinking for the 2 years 'Oh, actually I'm okay at this, I'm doing fine.'

But, then as web says, you were stuck with your 3 A Level choices, and if you realised quickly on that you really weren't all that good, then what could you do?

Although when I took O Levels (old gimmer) you really weren't encouraged to take an A Level in which you didn't have at least a B in it, at O Level - so you had at least some proficiency in the subject.

ShipwreckedAndComatose Fri 25-Jan-13 17:24:43

Sorry, my recent posts were started really in response to chickenyummychicken's post implying that it wasn't possible to fail an A level these days.

I didn't mean to get sucked into an exchange about what it was like when we did O levels and A levels.

My original point was that the pass rate for A levels is so high because students leave after AS if they are failing... Half way through.

my 'deluded' comment was about those who were struggling/ were lazy a long the way but believed that it would be ok in the end.

trust me, they do exist, I've seen loads of them over many many years!!

gelo Fri 25-Jan-13 18:13:45

Aside from the fact that none of the children I know resat and resat (a few resat the odd module once, but many resat none), I don't really see the problem with it. If we want children who have the skills that the modules are testing, isn't it better that they resit them until they are competent in that task than take one terminal exam and finish the course without having fully grasped some of the skills?

Yellowtip Fri 25-Jan-13 18:20:19

newgirl it's well established that on the whole boys are better with just exams and girls are better with exams plus coursework. Of course there will be exceptions to the rule, but it's still the general rule. Boys are also better at mulktiple choice than girls in the 11+ tests. Girls dither too much, apparently while boys take risks.

Yellowtip Fri 25-Jan-13 18:21:14

multiple choice, not mulktiple.

LaQueen Fri 25-Jan-13 18:31:30

"If we want children who have the skills that the modules are testing, isn't it better that they resit them until they are competent in that task than take one terminal exam and finish the course without having fully grasped some of the skills?"

Gelo I think the point is that there are plenty of students out there who can and do fully grasp all the skills the course entails and are very quickly competent, and do well in the terminal exam, too.

In the workplace, people who are very capable, quick to understand and even quicker to apply their skills (without needing lots of hand-holding) competently are the most desirable.

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