UK Universities to Design A-Levels

UK Ed Sec Gove wants to create a more cohesive higher education system by allowing Universities a much greater role in designing A-level courses.

The future of continuous assessment within the UK is looking ever more doubtful as UK Education Secretary Michael Gove has declared that he wants to give universities a greater role in designing the nation’s A-levels. The existing disconnect between the running of further education and higher education is similar to that experienced in the foreign language fields between GCSE and further education during the 90s. As A-level teachers in languages once complained that GCSE students reaching their classroom were useless, now universities are complaining that students coming to them from ‘A’ level don’t know the right things. The implication is clearly that their sixth form colleges aren’t teaching them the right things.

A culture of re-sits, bitesize exams and schools drilling pupils to pass tests is leaving many new students floundering at university, a report has warned.

Academics are losing faith in the abilities of first-year undergraduates, many of who have a “shallower” knowledge than in the past, according to research by the exams watchdog, Ofqual.

The report was based on interviews with employers and members of academia and utilized discussion groups with A-level teachers. Of particular concern to academia was that students lacked the requisite skills for degree study such as research, essay writing and proper referencing protocol, however beyond this the domination of module based continuous assessment in most pre-degree programs has lead to students simply forgetting the material they were tested on early in their courses. Module based assessment suffers the intrinsic problem of non-integration.

Academics at selective universities told researchers that they have “less faith in the abilities of first-year undergraduates than they used to.”

Despite an increase in A-level grade, and higher numbers gaining first-class degrees, universities are not reporting “a comparative increase in the abilities of first-year undergraduates,” it says.

“If anything, students’ theoretical subject knowledge was said to have grown broader but shallower.”

This isn’t the first criticism of continual assessment to be leveled against the education systems in the UK and the problems associated with ‘teaching to the test’ are starting to become a serious concern in US schools as well.

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