Right of Reply: John Dunford

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The Independent Culture
The general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association defends modular A-levels

According to Judith Judd's report in The Independent, the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) is warning that the new modular A- levels are preventing bright pupils from showing their grasp of a subject. But the exam boards have maintained the standard of the traditional end- of-course papers.

In fact, modular courses have made A-levels more accessible - and herein perhaps lies the problem. Whenever the education system successfully implements a reform which broadens opportunities and creates success for more people, someone is sure to say that standards are falling. GCSEs met the same response, as did university expansion.

The proposed system of advanced level qualifications is now being accused of "dumbing down".

Until July 1998, I was head of a comprehensive school with a large, successful sixth form where modular assessment programmes were used in six subjects. The level of difficulty of the subjects was the same and standards were maintained, but the students achieved more A grades and very few failures. Modular assessment enabled the young people and their teachers to monitor more effectively their progress through the course and deal with weaknesses more quickly.

The students also found that modular courses provided stronger motivation for success. They also make them work more consistently. We need to go further, especially by bringing academic and vocational qualifications into a more unified structure and creating a modular credit framework which matches the Government's ambitions for lifelong learning. For the start of the 21st century, we need an education system that offers maximum opportunity.