What changes are happening?
We are making a series of reforms to A levels in England in the coming years. Some of these changes result from improvements we want to make as regulator, following research we have published on current A levels. Some of the changes result from policy decisions by Ministers. We advise on and have to take account of Government policy when it affects qualifications.
The reforms include changes to the structure of the qualification, the introduction of a standalone AS qualification and arrangements for the involvement of higher education in future A level design.
From September 2013, students in England will no longer be able to sit A level exams in January in either their first or second year of A level studies. A levels will still be examined unit by unit, but all exams will be taken in the summer exam period.
We are also currently working to make further changes that will bring in:
- A change to the structure of assessment within A levels so that the qualifications are fully linear. This means all assessment will be undertaken at the end of the course, rather than at the end of each year of A level study.
- A standalone AS qualification that is de-coupled from an A level. The results from the new AS will not contribute to a full A level qualification.
Exam boards will be reviewing the subject content in a range of A level subjects over the coming months, using their established subject and higher education review arrangements, and taking into consideration the views of learned societies and international evidence. We will be working with the exam boards as they carry out their reviews and once this work is finished we will decide whether curriculum content changes are needed and, if they are, how we will consult on them.
The subjects that exam boards will be reviewing are:
- Further Mathematics
- English (language, literature, language and literature)
- Art and Design
- Business Studies
When is all this happening?
Fully linear A levels in a range of subjects (listed above) and standalone AS qualifications will be introduced for first teaching in September 2015 subject to the outcomes of the exam boards’ content reviews. You can see a timeline for reform here. For subjects where more significant change is needed, we expect that the new qualifications will be available from 2016.
We recognise that this is a challenging timescale for exam boards and for schools and colleges preparing to teach the new qualifications. At the moment, we think that the timetable is deliverable, but we are prepared to take action and delay implementation dates for some subjects if we think this is necessary.
Why are the changes happening?
Between June and September 2012 we ran a consultation on A level reform. The consultation was launched following the 2010 Government white paper, The Importance of Teaching, and an exchange of letters in March and April 2012 between Ofqual and the Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP. You can download the letter from the Secretary of State to us and our letter to the Secretary of State. The consultation was developed using a range of research on A level assessment, on perceptions of A levels and on similar qualifications used internationally (see ‘Research’ below).
The consultation reflected the evidence of our research and set out our proposals for the structure of A levels and what assurances we would want from exam boards about how they involved higher education in future A level design.
The consultation received over 1000 responses from parents, students, schools, colleges, higher education and employers.
The findings report can be downloaded here – Analysis of the consultation carried out into higher education involvement in GCE A levels and amended GCE A level criteria (design rules)
You can also download the Equality analysis of the A level reform consultation and the Impact assessment of A-level reforms.
Since we conducted the consultation there has been further policy development from Government.
In early 2013 we exchanged further letters with the Secretary of State, which confirmed more clearly his policy intentions around the future of the AS qualification and of the design and content of A levels. You can download the letter from January from the Secretary of State to us and the letter from March from the Secretary of State to us. You can also download our letter in March to the Secretary of State.
In that letter we confirmed that the consultation we had carried out, along with other factors such as our equality analysis, put us in a position where we could act consistently with the policy being set out. The reforms do not impact on our ability to maintain standards.
The letter also confirmed that we had quickly responded to the Secretary of State’s request to consider, with exam boards, what other subjects could be reformed alongside the ‘facilitating subjects’ first mentioned in his letter to us in March 2012. The subjects being reviewed are listed above and we are working with exam boards on designing review activities for the wider review of all subjects in the future. We are using the responses we received in our consultation about the extent of higher education’s involvement in the review process to help us consider how future review processes should look and be regulated.
See all our news updates about A level reform.
Comparative analysis of A level student work, final report – This piece of work aimed to understand the impact of the structural changes to A levels under the legacy model and the current state. It focused on evidence of any difference, or similarities, between the 2008 and 2010 specifications and students’ performance in exams, with particular reference to stretch and challenge and the introduction of the A* grade.
Comparative analysis of A level assessment outcomes for 2008‒10 (executive summary only) – The purpose of this study was first, to establish whether overall outcomes in selected subjects were similar between 2008 and 2010, and whether this was true at unit as well as qualification level, and second, to show whether the patterns of candidates re-taking units were similar between 2008 and 2010.
Fit for Purpose? The view of the higher education sector, teachers and employers on the suitability of A levels – This work was commissioned to gather views on A levels from a wide range of stakeholder groups including HE, employers, learned bodies, teachers and awarding organisations. It identified the perceived quality of A levels, and also identified areas where people thought changes could be made to A levels to improve the course of study and help develop students’ skills.
International comparisons in senior secondary assessment - We have carried out an international comparability study of A levels and equivalent qualifications. The research reviewed exams, covering a representative range of subjects, including judging their comparative demand and looking at the design of assessment across the qualifications.