Independent heads reject baccalaureate reform and call for tougher A-levels

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Britain's independent schools delivered a crippling blow to planned exam reforms yesterday, rejecting them outright and calling for a return to traditional A-levels with tougher marking standards.

Britain's independent schools delivered a crippling blow to planned exam reforms yesterday, rejecting them outright and calling for a return to traditional A-levels with tougher marking standards.

They dismissed plans for a new, broader sixth-form diploma - dubbed an English-style baccalaureate - being advocated by a government inquiry into education for 14- to 19-year-olds, saying universities were unlikely to recognise it.

In an unprecedented move, the four leading organisations representing independent schools declared they wanted to keep GCSEs and A-levels. But they insisted on tougher marking - so fewer candidates obtained A grades - and an end to coursework, which has been dubbed the "cheats' charter", with pupils taking their answers from the internet.

They want a return to the days of concentrating on end-of-term tests. The schools want the more stringent marking system for A-levels to combat complaints from universities that they cannot sort out the most talented students now that one in five get A grades. As a result, universities such as Oxford and Cambridge have introduced their own tests to find the brightest students.

The tough stance of the four organisations is likely to torpedo plans for the new diploma being floated by Mike Tomlinson, the former chief schools inspector, who heads the government inquiry. It raises the prospect of the independent sector going it alone and devising its own exams if the Government insists on backing the diploma approach, although independent schools insist, at present, that they are "in negotiation" with Mr Tomlinson.

Martin Stephen, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference and headmaster of Manchester Grammar School, said: "It's not the right way to undertake diplomacy to declare war if the present negotiations don't go right. We haven't reached the stage of a breakdown."

Mr Tomlinson is due to present an interim report on his proposals next month. He is expected to produce plans for a new diploma, which would make the study of English, maths and IT compulsory for sixth formers.

But the heads warn of the proposed diploma: "Unless all universities make the achievement of an Advanced Diploma a pre-requisite for entry to higher education, it is inconceivable that a diploma framework will command support and respect."

They also insist that, if the Government does adopt its proposals and sticks with A-levels and GCSEs, it must cut the number of tests and exams taken by pupils. "Examinations should serve, not shape, teaching and learning," they said. "At present, however, they intrude far too much and impact negatively on the post-13 curriculum. The key priority for reform must be to reduce the overall burden of these examinations."

The heads said that pupils should be able to skip GCSEs in subjects they intend to take at A-level, although they acknowledged that pupils will take the core subjects of English and maths whatever they plan to study. On GCSEs, they said: "Our immediate priority for reform is coursework. Coursework, in its present form, is burdensome, often repetitive and open to abuse."

Science, a modern foreign language and a humanities should also be part of the core studies of 13- to 16-year-olds, they added.

Comments