A-level content - should Universities have more say?

May 03, 2012, 11:43 AM GMT+0

Should universities have more say in A-level content? Do you think students are currently well-prepared for university or not? Join the discussion

Education Secretary Michael Gove recently called for universities to have more say in the content of A-level courses being taught in England’s schools and colleges.

If Gove’s proposals go ahead, the new-style A-levels could be introduced in September 2014, in time for students sitting A-levels in 2016.

What do you think of these proposed changes? We opened up the debate...

For some readers, this proposal is nothing new. When A-levels were first introduced they were set by university exam boards, but they began to lose their influence over the years with increases in government regulations.

The majority of participants in our poll supported the idea of universities having more say in A-levels, arguing that university tutors would be well-placed to help revitalise the qualifications, due to their greater practical knowledge.

But those who did not support this change argued that A-levels should not be seen simply as a gateway to university, and should be used to prepare students for a variety of roles. Several participants with this view also felt a new system would be too difficult to implement.

Who should have control over A-level content? Are students well-prepared for universities? Join the debate below

Here's what our poll participants had to say...

1. I SUPPORT universities having more say in A-Level content

Argument 1: Students today are not well-prepared for university’s challenges

“Students need to be able to read text books, search for information, write coherent English, argue points and think rationally. Quite frankly the A-level courses I taught never made sure they could do these thingsEsther, Sevenoaks

“Schools make no effort to prepare students for post-school activity. Many students fail because of this lack of understanding of what is required in the processes of studyJDW, Sussex

“Students are often so ill prepared that universities have to give extra tuition, particularly in maths” Anon, Folkstone

It's tough enough dealing with the change in living circumstances as well as dealing with taking new approaches to study. A smoother transition between the spoon-fed nature of A-Level study and the independent style of university study would improve academic standards” Anon

“Most universities are making students catch up on skills they should already have when they start. So far 1/6th of my child’s course has been wasted on ‘study skills’ courses he did not need, did not want and were irrelevant to his degree” Anon

“A-levels do need to prepare students for life at University. Exams that demand more from students can also be beneficial for those going into work as it will equip them with greater knowledge and study skills” Anon

“The first year at University is often taken up with bringing students up to University level - a waste of a year and not what Universities are meant to be doing” Anon

Argument 2: Universities are better placed to set A-Level content

Universities know what they are looking for in potential students [whereas] exam boards are concerned with commercial success dependent on good results” Anon, Tavistock

Universities are better placed for succession development. Many universities have close links with industry/commerce so are more in tune with required areas to deliver training onAnon

“Cut out the middle man. Universities know what they're going to be teaching, it makes sense to tailor the qualifications to what comes next” Anon

“Graduates leave university and go out to work, so the universities should be more in touch with reality and workplace requirements than an academic exam board” Alex A, Wokingham

“A-levels are primarily a passport to higher education; therefore universities are in the best position to set appropriate exams and syllabuses” Anon

University professors/tutors obviously know best how transition from the sixth form to university courses is accomplished” Rupert, Hampstead

Argument 3: The current A-level system needs to re-think its standards

“A-Levels have become ridiculously easy over the years, and whilst current students would beg to differ, they have not had to sit ones from the past. It should only be the brightest that go to universityAnon

“Exam boards are too objective-focused; universities will provide a broader knowledge” Anon

The current process is no longer in line with the needs of business and industry, I have spent the past few years watching my children being educated in a method which is purely to ensure they meet targets and pass exams” Adrian B, Stafford

“Currently, the standards vary from one examination board to another, so you could pass with one board yet fail with another” Andrew P, Newcastle upon Tyne

“Exam boards have an incentive to create exams that have a high pass rate. Universities will have an incentive to create exams that will determine who are the students most likely to do well at an undergraduate course” Anon

“Many A-levels today are of a far less demanding quality than O-levels in the same subjects taken in 1960. As a consequence, employers have less faith in the new certificates, and universities are spending resources on bringing first-year University students up to standard” John T, Bolton

“Clearly A-level exams can be achieved by resitting time and time again. I would hate to have a doctor who could take 10 tries before he got the correct diagnosis” Bill, Pulborough

2. I OPPOSE universities having more say in A Level content

Argument 1: Not everyone taking A-levels wants to go to university

“Many people have no intention of going to university and instead take school level exams for the purpose of increasing their chance of employmentAli, Dundee

Exam boards allow students to make individual choices. Not all A-level students go to university”

“A-levels are not purely designed for university entrance. Preparation for attendance at university should not be the primary purpose of A-levelsAnon

University is just one destination for A-level students; some will go directly into business or to training in manufacturing, to armed forces and police...what on earth would a university-styled exam offer for these options?” Anon

“A-levels are no longer simply used for university entry; they are for academic achievement and entry to some careers and training”

Argument 2: A new system would be too inconsistent

We need to have a consistent and comprehensive standard for A-Levels. Not one that is fragmented according to multiple different universities and other bodies” Ken, Buckinghamshire

“There could be a situation where one university wanted one syllabus whilst another required something different. Students would have to take a chance on getting into particular universities if they chose their syllabus” Anon

“There is no democratic accountability with universities – at least this way we can have a say in the matter” Anon

Universities would constantly dispute the content of the A-levels. Plus it would allow influential universities such as Cambridge, Oxford and UCL to dictate content and potentially turn A-levels into an advanced kind of 11+Anon

“Exam boards have a duty to produce exams for all students. Universities would favour exams for students who are planning to go to universityAnon

Argument 3: A-levels are not just about academia

Education should be to develop intellect and individual thought, not to produce young people for university or a job” John, Redditch

Secondary education should be about breadth of interests, not narrowing it down to academic fields” Anon

“There should be an element of learning for learning's sake in exams rather than learning to satisfy other’s needs” Alwyn ap Huw, Conwy

“There is no way a university could provide a balanced exam as they are too academically focussed. There needs to be input from more than one area” Sarah, Hamilton

Education is about far more than university and work. It's about being able to think, manage your life and also manage the machinations of one's universities and employers” Anon

It would be a great shame if the range of subjects offered was to be reduced. Though some students excel at traditional subjects, others may be just as valuable to life today” Mary W, Manchester

3. How well or badly do you feel that A-level courses currently prepare students to succeed at university?

“I feel that the challenge of A-levels at the age of 16-18 made me much more aware of the expectations of universityNicole, Manchester

“A-Levels are hard work and in fact more difficult than work done on some of the university coursesAnon

“There is a clear commitment to studying required to achieve good results at A-level” Anon

“Students should be fairly well prepared for university if universities choose students with appropriate 'A' Levels for their courses” Marie, Wickersley

“I studied as a mature student at university. The A-level students were much better prepared than I wasGary, Stanley

“I think it depends on the school/college that is teaching the subjectsSarah, Hamilton

“At the end of the day it is the attitude of the young adult as to how they are prepared for university” Anon

“With some exceptions, most degrees seem to start afresh rather than reinforce earlier work. Groundwork for a degree level course should start with A-level course content” Anon

Children are not taught how to research a subject ‒ they are spoon-fed the bits they need to learn to pass the exam” Diana, Surrey

“I think it comes as a total shock to students when they get to university - they are not prepared for the amount of work they have to do on their own” Cathy M, Essex

“They have not been adequately prepared at school. For example they are not encouraged to read round their subjectsChris, Wirral

“The current A-level system is geared to helping students pass, once at university they will find an environment in which they have to learn to cope with failureAnon

“The proof [that A-levels are inadequate] is clear in that the universities are being required to carry further secondary education lessons to bring pupils up to the required ability for the course” Keith B, Wigan

Who should have control over A-level content? Are students well-prepared for universities? Join the debate below

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