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A-level exams 'should be earlier'


The Telegraph, UK

A-level exams could be sat earlier to ease concerns over the annual scramble for university places, according to the qualifications watchdog.

Students may sit tests earlier to give them more time to find a place through the clearing system or request exam papers to be re-marked, said Ofqual.

It follows claims from head teachers that the existing system is a “national scandal” which often descends into chaos.

Currently, students have just a few weeks to confirm university places after receiving A-level results in mid- to late-August.

Every year, teenagers across the UK also request that papers are re-marked after narrowly failing to get the correct grades.

But it is feared many students still miss out on places even though marks are subsequently upgraded because the system is too slow.

Kathleen Tattersall, Ofqual chairman, suggested A-levels could be brought forward by around a week and examiners could make better use of on-line marking to create more time.

“How bad can it be for the student in the first place to be disappointed by their grade, in the second place to be elated that the appeal has raised their grade and then to find that their place has gone,” she said. “It’s totally unacceptable.”

She added: “If we can shave some time off that process because of new technology then I think it is worth trying to find earlier dates.”

Currently, A-levels are taken by around 300,000 students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in mid-May. This year, results were published on Thursday, August 20, giving students around two weeks to find places through the clearing system or request a re-mark.

Under current rules, examiners are supposed to re-mark test papers within 18 days if university places are dependent on the outcome. Last year, there were 1,200 requests for “emergency” appeals.

Mrs Tattersall said it may be possible to bring exams forward by around a week to create more time. Results could be published even earlier, she said, with the “better use of technology” to mark work.

Speaking at the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference in Liverpool on Tuesday, she insisted that exams could not be brought further forward because of concerns that it would cut teaching and revision time.

Geoff Lucas, secretary of HMC, which represents 250 leading private schools, said many students would continue to lose their place unless reforms were introduced.

“What price the rhetoric of ‘fair admissions’ if students are to be denied their rightful university places because of a simple failure of exam boards and universities to get their act together?” he said. “Moreover, it is a failure that potentially affects all aspiring university entrants, irrespective of gender, race, socioeconomic background, schooling, or whatever contextual factor you care to choose. It is a truly inclusive national failure.”

Meanwhile, Mrs Tattersall also criticised the Government for making constant changes to the exam and assessment system in England. She attacked the decision to axe GNVQ courses in favour of new vocational qualifications and she also said other qualifications had been rushed in without being properly trialled.

This includes Labour’s new functional skills qualifications in English and maths which are being set up to ensure teenagers can apply the basic subjects to everyday life.

“I have a concern that we introduce instability to the system in too many decisions,” she said. “What we need is some stability, alongside some recognition that the world does not stand still.”



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