Saturday, November 24, 2007

New A-levels face close scrutiny

ast Updated: Friday, 23 November 2007, 16:37 GMT

New A-levels face close scrutiny
exam candidate
A-level candidates face tougher questions from September 2008
England's exams watchdog is sending consultants in to exam board meetings to check that new A-levels are being made sufficiently challenging.

It is the first such intervention by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), set up 10 years ago.

Its board's minutes say it is taking a more active role in the setting of A-level and GCSE exam papers.

The government has recently decided to split up the QCA, to make its regulatory arm independent.

The QCA's director of regulation and standards, Isabel Nisbet, raised the issue at the board meeting in September.

'Significant risk'

Minutes of the meeting, just published, say the aim was "to ensure that papers are of high quality, and to ensure that future GCE [A-level] papers have fewer structured questions, requiring more extended responses".

There should be a limited investigation, confined to "very small number of new A-level specifications, involving observation by a QCA consultant".

These consultants would observe what went on before the finalising of question papers and marks schemes.

The minutes add: "The board emphasised that the QCA should exercise its authority to intervene where there is believed to be significant risk to the standard of question papers and in the start up of new qualifications."

'Widespread concern'

From next year A-levels are going to be reformed to make them more stretching, as universities say it is hard to distinguish between all the applicants who now achieve good A-level grades.

The government has agreed with the QCA that all questions should be more open-ended, requiring more thoughtful, detailed answers.

In addition, a new A* grade will recognise students who score 90% or more.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families said the board minutes simply discussed on-going quality assurance processes by the QCA "which is their job - and has been for the last 10 years".

But Shadow Schools Minister Nick Gibb said the QCA's intervention "underlines widespread concern about the failure of the government to police exam standards".

He said: "It reinforces the need for there to be greater rigour in the system.

"The fact that half of school leavers are failing to achieve five good GCSEs including English and maths emphasises the need for urgent improvement."

1 comment:

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