Regular readers of my various blogs here and elsewhere, know that I have no idea who can fathom Mr Gove’s next actions. Some seem entirely straightforward – GCSEs to return to a linear format as of Autumn 2012, which is probably fine by me, though I have yet to see how the Exam boards are to translate this imperative into course specifications for teachers to develop into manageable schemes of work over the next few months.
But the breaking news today that A levels are to be owned by Russell Group Universities signals a change of such breath-taking audacity that it’s going to take some thinking through to understand the ramifications of it all. New A levels are to be introduced from September 2014, and it is the Russell Group Universities that are going to dictate the content and mode of assessment of these future replacement qualifications.
Now the really difficult thing is that Universities such as Cambridge have already declared that Mr Gove is wrong about A level reform; 2 years ago Cambridge admissions manager Geoff Parks suggested that interim results from AS levels were really useful for Universities as invaluable indicators of progress! Last December, Baroness Blackstone, writing in the Times Higher Education supplement had this to say about the growing stratification of elite University places into the hands of those who gain AAB at A level – “It is not, however, a diminution in fair access that concerns me most. What really worries me is a socially segregated system of higher education that is being reinforced and made more extreme.”
And Blackstone should know, having led two Universities through the expansion of University access over the last 20 years. She went on to say “The new conventional wisdom is that students with high A-level grades should all be corralled into so-called “top” universities, ie, those that are research intensive. These universities are deemed to be successful by being not just selective, but super-selective in their student recruitment. Now, every newspaper league table of universities heavily weights the input measure of students’ entry qualifications, encouraging universities to be ever more focused on candidates with three As or better.”
Now institutions such as Claires Court are well placed to take advantage of such strategic changes, because our Sixth Form diet is built upon a core of A levels subjects, blended together with an additional mix of vocational end extra-mural commitments. But one third of University places are achieved by other means, such as BTEC and Diploma courses, Now the latter are now dead, but the vocational courses are not, and for the past decade or more, these have provided University entrance for those whose abilities are not conducive to A level studies.
So thank you, Secretary of State for Education, for continuing to bring radical change to the education scene. Your latest positioning seems at odds with even the greatest Universities in the land in terms of A level structures, and just when employers are crying out for the education system to produce graduates with 21st Century skills, it seems very odd that you seem determined to place A levels into the hands of Universities who will have a vested interest in grooming students for their own needs.
We’ll have to wait and see, won’t we! What must be said, is that if University students for the most demanding under-graduate courses are increasingly found to be wanting in terms of study skills for their degree,, it will serve them ill if their first year of studies is just bringing them to scratch. A broad swathe of Universities feel that undergraduates know less and can do less than ever – read more of that in this article from the Daily Telegraph that is 10 years old – http://goo.gl/bYKSv! So let’s be clear, the problems listed have been worrying University entrance tutors for some years now.
This whole scenario reminds me of a very old joke: involving three passengers arguing about which of their professions was the oldest, on their train journey into work. The Builder made it quite clear that his was the first job, creating something from nothing. The Architect went one better, making it clear that it was his plans that preceded the builder, giving the latter plans on how to proceed from the chaos the Architect had found. The Politician trumped them both, declaring triumphantly that it was his that was the oldest profession of them all, creating as he had the Chaos in the first place!