Heads want inquiry into extra pressure on A-level students

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The Independent Online

Head teachers' leaders have demanded an inquiry into the Government's A-level reforms, which they claim are putting sixth-formers and schools under unacceptable pressure.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), has written to David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, calling for an investigation after complaints from schools that believe the new sixth-form curriculum is heading for collapse.

Class sizes have risen, exam clashes have caused widespread disruption and students have been forced to abandon all extracurricular activities because of the pressure of the new AS exams, the union said.

Mr Hart said: "The problems should have been anticipated and should have been resolved in a way that does not impose unreasonable demands on students and their schools." He blamed the changes to the sixth-form curriculum for putting "enormous pressure" on students and teachers.

Ministers introduced the reforms, known as Curriculum 2000, in September in an attempt to broaden sixth-formers' studies. Students were encouraged to take four or five subjects and expected to sit new AS exams, worth half an A-level, at the end of their first year. However, headteachers warned that overworked students were dropping out of AS-level courses, and excessive demands had forced many to abandon drama, sport, music clubs and other activities.

Mr Hart has condemned exam boards for failing to co-ordinate their timetables. Some students have been scheduled to sit up to eight hours of exams in one day.

State schools have threatened to abandon a new qualification designed to meet the needs of industry because universities had indicated that they preferred students to concentrate on A-levels.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, said: "We recognise all the problems that the NAHT is highlighting and believe that new initiatives should be evaluated after a first run-through. But we still strongly support the reforms, which will help to broaden students' studies and give them a halfway house to A-level with the new AS exam."