A level reform

What changes are happening?

We are making a series of reforms to A levels in England in the coming years.

This document summarises our latest updates to A level and AS qualifications

Consultation on New A Level Regulatory Requirements

In October we published our consultation on the new regulatory arrangements for A levels which closed on 17th January 2014.

The consultation includes proposals for 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. We have proposed 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.

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.

The consultation also sets 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.

Timeline for changes and exam boards’ curriculum content review

Following on from work carried out by exam boards earlier in 2013 to review the curriculum content for A levels, we published a report by Professor Mark E. Smith, the Independent Chair of the group that reviewed the exam board’s findings. The report on the review of current A level curriculum content concluded that content is fit for purpose in two subjects, and can be made so in most others, but Mathematics and Further Mathematics require more fundamental work.

We then wrote about our plans for the timing of reform to A levels in a letter to the Secretary of State dated 6 September 2013. The Secretary of State’s reply letter (also 6th September 2013) agreed with delaying changes to Mathematics and Further Mathematics given their fundamental importance.

We therefore intend to set in hand a reform programme with the aim that new A levels in the following subjects are ready for first teaching from September 2015:

  • English Language and Literature
  • English Language
  • English Literature
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • History
  • Geography
  • Psychology
  • Art and design
  • Sociology
  • Business
  • Economics
  • Computing

The Department for Education ran their consultation New A levels: subject content consultation, which closed on the 20th December 2013. This consultation follows on from the recommendations of Professor Smith’s report.

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 following:
Equality analysis of the A level reform consultation
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 January letter from the Secretary of State to us and the March letter from the Secretary of State to us. You can also download our March letter 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.

Latest news

See all our news updates about A level reform.

Research

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.

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