January A-levels to be ditched in bid to cut resits

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A-LEVEL students will only be able to take exams in the summer, with fewer chances to re-sit papers, exam watchdog Ofqual has announced.

The regulator said scrapping January exams would address concerns over how many times students can take exams, by cutting the number of re-sit opportunities available.

The decision comes following a three-month consultation into A-level reform.

Ofquals said it was still considering further changes, such as more university involvement in the qualifications, and altering the structure of the exams.

Education Secretary Michael Gove announced earlier this year that he wanted to give universities, particularly the most elite institutions, “a far greater role” in designing A-levels in the future, amid concerns that the qualifications are failing to prepare teenagers for higher education.

Plans were set out in Ofqual’s consultation document, published in June, for exam boards to show that each A-level qualification it offers has the support of at least 20 UK universities. But the plans have been met with opposition from both universities and school leaders.

Universities UK (UUK) has said it does not believe it would be “advisable or feasible” for the sector to “take ownership” of the qualifications.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said the level of involvement proposed is “very high and very time consuming”, adding it is “unclear” what is meant by the support of 20 universities.

However Ofqual chief regulator Glenys Stacey yesterday insisted that the consultation had shown “broad support” for more involvement from higher education.

She added: “The consultation followed on from Ofqual’s research into perceptions of A-levels. This showed that the qualifications are considered to be largely fit for purpose but that there were some structural changes that could be made to improve them. There were also concerns expressed by teachers, employers and universities over what they term a resit culture.

“Teachers in particular said that A-level students approach examinations with the expectation that they will always get a second chance.” The announcement leaves the future of AS-levels uncertain.

Under the current system, students take AS-levels after one year and then pick which subjects they want to continue for a second year to gain a full A-level.

Ofqual’s consultation put forward three proposals for the future of AS-levels, one of which was to scrap the qualification. Such a move would mean a return to traditional two-year A-levels, with exams at the end of the course.

It was reported last month that Government officials are also developing a new Advanced Baccalaureate (ABacc) that would see pupils take a mix of science and humanities-based A-levels, and AS-levels kept, but as a separate qualification.

Pam Tatlow, chief executive of university think-tank million+, said: “The Government’s plans to reform A-levels have clearly run into troubled waters, with a very limited set of reforms from the exam regulator Ofqual along with proposals for further consultation. Ofqual has already concluded that A-levels are broadly fit for purpose and universities have rejected the proposal that they ‘sign off’ each A-level subject for the different exam boards and there is no good reason to resurrect it.”

She added: “Students are also the losers from the decision to remove the opportunity to sit A-levels in January. There are merits in limiting the number of resits but there is no mileage in the final A-level exams only being offered in June.”