A-Level reforms won’t meet students’ interests or capabilities

After Michael Gove’s GCSE reforms that sought to put a stronger emphasis on the international baccalaureate, A-levels are set to follow suit. Gove’s planned shake up of A-levels are in a response to Universities’ criticisms that students’ educations are not rounded enough. The reorganization of A-levels will require students that choose to study a Humanities subject to also study a contrasting discipline such as mathematics. In addition the reforms will introduce the task of a writing a dissertation of up to 5,000 words. Not unlike the Education Minister’s previous policies, under examination his plans produce reservations. There has been no public consultation on replacing A-levels leaving it unlikely that any change to A-levels will be comprehensive.

It should be acknowledged that Gove’s plan to require students to choose a variety of subjects at A-level implicitly concedes that education at GCSE level is not satisfactory. Students fail to leave their GCSE education with an adequate level of knowledge; otherwise reform would retain a students’ ability to be free to pursue the subjects of their choice no matter how narrow.

At A-level, a prospective undergraduate’s future is at stake; every UCAS point counts. Forcing students to choose a subject they have little interest in or are weak at will harm their final grades. Ultimately having a negative impact upon their standard of Higher Education. This said, plans to diversify A-level education have merit. The concern noted above can be remedied should students prior to GCSE study be informed that at A-level they will be required to choose a range of subjects. This would give students an adequate amount of time to cultivate an interest and intellect in a range of subjects.

Gove’s planned dissertation in response to calls from the elite Russell Group offers nothing new. The current option to complete an extended project already gives students the chance to write an extensive essay around a subject of their choice which also contributes to a pupil’s final UCAS score. The length of this dissertation appears to be ill thought. Undergraduates, until writing their own dissertation, are required to reach a word limit in essays which falls far below Gove’s 5,000 word limit for A-levels. It is folly that Gove is preparing A-level students to complete an assignment that Universities do not demand of undergraduates.

In the House of Commons, Gove’s plans achieve cross-party support from the Shadow Education Minister Stephen Twigg who gives Labour’s backing. Twigg nonetheless holds a concern over Gove’s plans that they ignore subjects such as engineering and computing that are crucial to a modern economy. This is similar to previous criticisms of Gove’s reforms during this Parliament that he does not appreciate vocational or expressive arts disciplines.


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September 2021
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