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Primary Education News
News AS-levels would be revived under Labour, vows Twigg
Shadow education secretary says reversal of Michael Gove's A-level reforms would be welcomed by universities and schools
As students ready themselves for the plunge into university clearing after hearing their A-level results on Thursday, shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, has pledged a Labour administration would restore the status of AS levels as part of a reversal of changes to A-levels instituted by the government.
Twigg said the revival of AS-levels – at the end of a first year of a modular A-level course structure – was being demanded by universities to help with their admissions process and by schools as a way of widening participation and offering a greater variety of subjects for students.
"We have got to restore the AS level as the building block to A-levels. The evidence is so overwhelming," Twigg said, as tens of thousands of students awaited their A-level results – including those waiting to hear results in AS levels that are being downgraded by the education secretary, Michael Gove.
Twigg's pledge comes amid concerns the changes have led the headteachers of some of Britain's most prestigious independent schools to warn that they will abandon domestic A-levels for so-called "international A-levels", a separate qualification that retains AS-levels as part of a modular course.
Gove's reform of A-level structures has included doing away with AS-levels as part of modular courses, preferring a more traditional two-year linear course with grades based on a final examination, with AS levels separated off as a dead-end qualification that few students were likely to pursue.
Twigg said Gove's traditional view was unsuited to a modern education system and was opposed by universities that appreciate the greater information AS levels offer when making admissions decisions.
Twigg still holds out hope that Gove may rethink the decision, as he has done on a number of occasions, such as his ill-fated proposal to replace GCSEs with English Baccalaureate Certificates.
"Obviously I hope that the government won't proceed with the change, but if they do and if we then come to power in 2015, we will restore the AS as a building block to A-levels rather than being a separate qualification," Twigg said.
"The message I get from schools and colleges and universities is that there is real value in having the AS-level as a building block, and that they want to bring it back."
Cambridge University has argued that AS-levels are a better guide to undergraduate potential than GCSE results, being a year later and at a more sophisticated level.
The Russell Group of leading research universities also opposed the move, saying that AS levels offer students greater breadth of options and are more useful for setting university admissions criteria.
"Gove is trying to make an argument that his changes to A-levels are all about giving more of a say to universities and listening to concerns of the universities. And yet the universities themselves don't like what he is proposing," Twigg said.
The chorus of criticism at the move to disestablish AS levels has been joined by the heads of independent schools.
Andrew Grant, headmaster of St Albans school in Hertfordshire, told the Times Educational Supplement that the downgrading of AS levels was "throwing the baby out with the bath water" – and said other members of the prestigious Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference of public schools also wanted AS levels retained.
Under the current structure, A-level students begin by studying AS levels and sit exams at the end of their first year. They then decide which subjects to pursue for a second year of study – known as an A2 – with marks in exams at the end of the second year combined with AS level marks to make up the overall A-level grade in a subject.
AS-levels were introduced by the previous Labour administration. Twigg said they had the effect of helping pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds apply to university because modular A-levels and other reforms helped bridge longstanding achievement gaps in education.
The Department for Education's response is that universities have long been concerned that there are problems with the current structure of A-levels, and that the reforms to A-levels will raise standards.
The final decision on the new A-levels structure lies in the hands of education standards watchdog Ofqual and will be published next year.