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Proposals for A level coursework and new AS levels

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Ofqual today (Friday, October 25th) sets out for consultation further details of its proposals to improve A level qualifications in England.

The proposals include subject-by-subject arrangements that put in place a better balance between exam and non exam assessment, or coursework, for the 14 subjects being revised ready for first teaching in 2015.

They also set out details of the new AS qualification, which the Government has decided will be a stand-alone qualification, separate from the A level. However, exam boards will be able to design the AS so that it can be taught alongside the first year of an A level course.

The proposals will be subject of a 12 week consultation, finishing on January 17th, 2014. In parallel, the Department for Education is hosting a consultation on the curriculum content for these subjects on its website.

Ofqual’s Chief Regulator Glenys Stacey said: “We want the best possible qualifications for our young people.

“Our research has found that A levels are well thought of, but nevertheless they can be improved so as to prepare students better for their next steps, particularly higher education.

“Following earlier consultations we have already removed January assessments so all exams take place in the summer and confirmed that all assessments will take place at the end of the two year course.

“The further proposals today set out arrangements that will improve the way A level and AS qualifications are assessed, in the interests of students and all those who rely on these important qualifications.”

Ofqual is proposing that A levels only include non exam assessment in subjects where it is necessary to assess the required skills. Otherwise assessment will be by exam only. Where there is non exam assessment, Ofqual proposes the percentage of marks allocated to it will be fixed. This will provide a much clearer rationale for the role of non exam assessment in each subject.

It is also proposed that where non exam assessment is used, it should be designed in such a way that is manageable for schools while providing valid assessment, and that can reduce the risks of malpractice.

The subject-by-subject proposals include:

  • Re-introduction of non exam assessment of fieldwork in geography
  • Retention of 100 per cent non exam assessment for art and design
  • English literature, English language, history, geography and computer science to be 80 per cent exam and 20 per cent non exam.

For biology, chemistry and physics:

  • Practical skills to be assessed and the results reported separately. The results will not count towards grades. Understanding of experimental methods will be assessed in exams.

Glenys Stacey said: “We have looked at each subject in turn and developed proposals designed to suit their individual needs. For example, fieldwork is a vital part of geography so we propose reintroducing non-exam assessment there. And art and design remains 100 per cent non exam.

“For the science subjects, we have found that the current arrangements result in predictable practical assessments, which can cause schools to focus just on the skills they know will be assessed rather than exploring a broader and more engaging range of skills.

“Significantly, the assessments don’t work very well to identify different levels of student performance, as the marks all tend to be bunched together at the top end.”

The consultation also includes proposals for Ofqual to work with exam boards to strengthen the moderation of teacher marking and reduce incidents of centre and student malpractice around non exam assessments.

Other proposals cover new assessment objectives – the abilities that candidates should be required to demonstrate – for each of the 14 subjects and a requirement for exam boards to develop and apply assessment strategies. These will set out their approach to assessing both practical skills and theoretical knowledge in order to strengthen and improve these arrangements.

Full details can be found here.


Notes to editors:

1. Some of the proposals announced today cover the design and structure of all A levels, and others are specific to the following subjects: biology; chemistry; physics; psychology; English language; English literature; English language and literature; history; geography; art and design; business; computer science; economics; sociology.

2. The aim is to have revised A levels and AS qualifications in these subjects ready to be taught in schools from September 2015.

3. More information about the timeline for qualifications can be found here.