A-levels must be revamped, says head of exam board

A major review of the A-level grading system is necessary to maintain public confidence in the exam, the head of one of the country's biggest exam boards said yesterday.

Jerry Jarvis, the managing director of Edexcel, said there was a public perception that "more discrimination" in awarding A-level passes was necessary. "Any exam graded A to G where 40 per cent of candidates get A grades – as happens in some subjects such as maths – instinctively feels wrong," he stated.

He called on Ofqual, the Government's new independent exams watchdog, to treat A-level grading as "a serious issue that needs to be considered".

Mr Jarvis was speaking at a seminar organised by the Guild of Educators in London to discuss whether exam standards had been "dumbed down".

He said it was "time for decisive action", adding: "The public perception is too many people are getting over the hurdle. Public perception is that more discrimination is necessary."

Mr Jarvis was speaking as about 250,000 youngsters were taking their A-levels with academics forecasting that the number of A grades awarded – now about 25 per cent – would rise again. Universities have claimed the rise in the pass rate makes it impossible for them to select the brightest candidates for the most popular courses – such as law and medicine.

Oxford and Cambridge universities are having to turn away around 10,000 candidates a year who are forecast to obtain three A-grade passes.

The Government is introducing a new A* grade – to be awarded for the first time next year – in a bid to solve the problem. However, Mr Jarvis said – agreeing while that would help introduce more discrimination at the top end – it would not solve the problem of public perception.

"That would help discriminate at a handful of universities," he said. He added that "the perception of quality" was "at least as important" as the actual quality. "If A-level is the gold standard, how can it remain the gold standard if more and more students get one?" he said.

To counteract arguments of "dumbing down", though, he said in reference to explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes successful ascent of Mount Everest earlier this week: "We've just seen a pensioner go up it so have we 'dumbed down' Everest?"

He added: "Of 18-year-olds, only 3 per cent actually get three A grades yet there is a perception they're so easy that everybody gets one." On criticism that allowing youngsters to resit the exam to boost their grades, he said: "Only 47 per cent of people pass their driving test the first time. Should we bar the rest from driving?"

Mr Jarvis said he was not going to outline his solutions for any grading review but expressed sympathy for the view of one questioner who argued A-level examiners should follow the example of apprenticeships, where there was a simple pass/fail structure.

His comments come at a time when A-levels are facing growing competition, with a number of private schools and a handful in the state sector opting for the new Pre-Uni exam – modelled on the traditional A-level with more weight placed on the end of year exam – or the International Baccalaureate, widely accepted as offering a broader curriculum by universities.

Ministers have countered by saying A-level questions will be tougher next year and that schools can encourage candidates to do an extended essay project alongside their A-levels to test their thinking skills.

At the seminar, Peter Williams, the outgoing chief executive of the Quality Assurance Agency – the higher education watchdogs – called for the creation of an Ofqual-style watchdog to oversee degree standards.

Dr Williams, who leaves his post in October and stressed he was speaking in a personal capacity, made his comments following a doubling in the number of first degree passes awarded in in the past decade and amid claims that lecturers were being urged to mark "leniently" to secure their universities a high ranking in league tables.

Meanwhile, Chris Woodhead, the former chief schools inspector, has denounced Ofsted, the education standards watchdog he used to be in charge of, as an "irrelevance" and "waste of public money".

In an interview with The Economist, Mr Woodhead said Ofsted had become "part of the problem" in that it now dealt more with data than feedback from actual inspections.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
science
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Nursery Manager is required t...

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before