Editorial: A-levels - could do better

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The new shape of A-levels was confirmed today by the Education minister, Elizabeth Truss, and – as will strike anyone who took the exams a generation ago – it bears a remarkable resemblance to the old one. The idea is to make an exam which has become devalued "more robust and rigorous", but also to remove the whole issue of school exams from politics. Both objectives are to be welcomed.

The modular system that started many pupils on a treadmill of exams from January in the first of their final two years, and allowed multiple re-sits to boot, is being replaced by a "linear" system with a single exam at the end. At the same time, responsibility for devising courses and monitoring the results is being passed to an organisation set up by the Russell Group of leading universities. Thus, some of the present system's severest critics will be charged with overseeing and monitoring what replaces it. That is no bad thing.

While a better exam system is clearly needed, however, given the dissatisfaction shared by universities and employers, a return to something like the previous system was the less ambitious, less imaginative option – notwithstanding the howls from teachers with an eye on their school's place in the league tables. With the school-leaving age in England rising to 18, the need to revamp or retain the 15-plus exams at all, let alone keep AS-levels, might usefully have been called into question.

A single, completely new and broader set of school-leaving exams might have been preferable. With all concerned now complaining of a surfeit of change, the opportunity for such a complete overhaul may have been lost for at least a generation.

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