Government warned against ditching A-level re-sits

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The Independent Online

The exams regulator was on a collision course with ministers today after indicating they should be wary of scrapping A-level re-sits.

By Alison Kershaw, Press Association Education Correspondent

Ofqual chief executive Isabel Nisbet appeared to warn against rushing to ditch re-sits, suggesting there was a need to examine the evidence of how they were being used.

Last week's Education White Paper raised concerns that re-sits could be seen as "undermining" GCSEs and A-levels and could be "educationally inappropriate".

It quoted evidence from 2008 research which suggested that between two-thirds and three-quarters of students re-sat at least one unit, and called for Ofqual to change the rules to prevent students from re-taking large numbers of papers.

But speaking at a Westminster Education Forum on A-levels today, Ms Nisbet suggested the situation had changed under new-style A-levels, awarded for the first time this summer.

The changes saw the introduction of the A* grade, pupils taking four units instead of six and exams including "stretch and challenge" questions for the brightest youngsters.

Ms Nisbet said research quoted in the White Paper also showed almost all the re-sits taken were taken at AS-level, more were taken in traditional subjects and there was a higher number taken by pupils in independent schools.

New research by the AQA board on this year's exams - the first to look at the new style A-levels, showed a decrease in the number of re-sits, Ms Nisbet said.

Some 42% of English Literature students re-sat at least one unit this year, compared to 65% in 2008.

"There's a change there, less re-sits and almost all who re-sat, re-sat only once," she said.

Comparing re-sits to the driving test, Ms Nisbet asked the audience for a show of hands of who passed their test the first time.

To those people, she said: "I would suggest, on behalf of the silent majority, of which I am one, that you are not necessarily the best drivers."

Ministers have also asked Ofqual to look at measuring the UK's qualifications with "the best in the world".

Addressing this issue, along with re-sits later, she added it was important for an independent regulator to remember to "not throw the baby out with the bathwater".

"Where there are clear, legitimate policy messages coming out of Government it is our job to adapt and reflect those, but on an evidence based and independent basis," Ms Nisbet said.