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Universities could set A-level content

Proposals for universities to decide the content of A-level courses have received a mixed reception by teachers and universities. The education secretary Michael Gove raised concerns that A-levels don’t stretch pupils, leaving them unprepared for university.

The exam regulator Ofqual agreed that more involvement from universities would be helpful and the Russell Group of leading universities said they were “certainly willing to give as much time as we can into giving advice to the exam boards”.

Gove said: “I will expect the bar to be a high one: university ownership of the exams must be real and committed, not a tick-box exercise. It is more important that universities are satisfied that A-levels enable young people to start their undergraduate degrees having gained the right knowledge and skills, than that ministers are able to influence content or methods of assessment.

“I am particularly keen that universities should be able to determine subject content, and that they should endorse specifications, including details of how the subject should be assessed. Leading university academics tell me that A-levels do not prepare students well enough for the demands of an undergraduate degree.”

Ofqual chief Glenys Stacey told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Getting universities more involved is the right thing to do for young people. Our job is to make sure qualifications pass muster... we can do it better if you involve universities in the design of A-levels.”

But Wendy Piatt, the Russell Group’s director general, cautioned: “We don’t actually have much time and resource spare to spend a lot of time in reforming A-levels.”

And NUT general secretary Christine Blower criticised the plans: “Yet again we see top down initiatives being brought into schools regardless of what the teaching profession may think. The NUT is very disappointed that Michael Gove has approached Ofqual without consulting the profession as well.”

The proposals could be implemented from September 2014.

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