According to Cambridge University admissions officials, controversial plans to scrap AS-level exams in their current form could lead to some teens from England to face missing out on degree places, claiming that a reform of the qualifications system risks “significantly disadvantaging” students in England compared with those taking exams elsewhere in the UK.
AS-levels, taken in the first 12 months of the A-level course, were “fundamental to fair admissions” and called for reconsideration of proposed changes, warned by the university. A-levels will be wholly assessed through end-of-course exams taken after two years of the sixth-form from the year 2015. Results will no longer count towards the full A-level for existing AS-levels, despite them being retained as standalone courses. However, this move is likely to lead to large numbers of schools dropping them altogether.
The changes will only apply to England under current plans, and devolved governments in Wales and Northern Ireland are not adopting the move.
Universities learn little more from knowing teenagers’ AS-level results in addition to GCSEs, as argued by ministers who insist that universities already use other information such as predicted grades, personal statements, references and interviews when making offers. Removing AS-levels will free up more time for teaching and learning, they say.
Because of their current reliance on students’ results at the end of the AS year to award provisional places, the move has angered Cambridge. According to Graeme Paton of The Telegraph, the university made a formal reply to a consultation carried out by the exams regulator Ofqual into proposed A-level changes.
It insisted that the AS-level was “fundamental to fair admissions”, adding: “It provides an up-to-date, objective and transparent record of academic progress at the point of applications.”
Admissions heads were allowed by the university to award more places to talented students from poor backgrounds “without engaging in positive discrimination,” it said.
“We are extremely concerned that students in England will be disadvantaged in light of the decision in Wales and Northern Ireland to retain Year 12 assessment (AS-levels),” it added.
It said the proposals “risk significantly disadvantaging students at English schools by removing their ability to present evidence of recent academic achievement when applying to universities”.
As stated by a spokesman for the Department for Education, “Returning A-levels to single exams will make sure students gain a deeper understanding of a subject and put an end to the test treadmill in sixth forms – something many teachers and universities complain about.”
“Many universities already use a wide range of data for admissions purposes, including GCSE grades and predicted A level grades.
“Recent research has shown that GCSE results are actually a better predictor than AS results alone. Our reforms will add further rigor to these qualifications, making them even more reliable as a predictor for admissions.”