The latest proposed A level reforms have been described as an ‘upheaval’, and would see AS levels no longer counting towards final A level grades. It is believed that this could see comprehensive schools at a disadvantage in university admissions, as their students are most likely to show good progress between their GCSE and AS level results. Mike Sewell, the Director of Admissions for Cambridge University colleges, has spoken out about why he feels AS examinations are better at predicting success than GCSEs. Should the A level reforms proceed as planned, Sewell urges that the government allow students to sit properly moderated exams in all subjects they are taking in the sixth form or at A level colleges.
Candidates beginning their studies between 2015-2017, are likely to encounter a mixture of reformed and unreformed A levels, but Sewell believes that it would be beneficial for those wishing to apply to Cambridge to sit externally moderated AS exams in 3, if not 4 of their chosen subjects. Students will not be at a disadvantage if they choose to study 3 AS levels, but it will be advised that they take 4. For those who are considering dropping one of their 4 subjects, AS level results can act as a useful guide, and from a university perspective, having recent public exam results can be a boost to applications. In the event that students are unable to provide results for externally moderated exams due to what their sixth form or A level colleges may have in place, Sewell suggests that tutors use UCAS references to make clear what their policy issues are.
Although Cambridge are clear on what their stance will be should the proposed reforms go ahead, many of the Russell Group universities are not yet certain how they will proceed. For Queen’s University Belfast, Edinburgh and Glasgow, who currently use A level predicted grades to select candidates, the reforms will have little impact. But for many, there is yet to be a firm plan in place to be able to offer prospective students any guidance. When asked if the proposed reforms would result in a push towards advising candidates to take 3 AS levels instead of 4, there seemed to be a lack of clarity amongst some of the universities in the group. King’s College have expressed concerns about whether the inflexibility of doing 3 A levels instead of 4 AS levels may result in the decline of some of the smaller subjects, and they may have a valid point.
Teaching of the new A / AS level structure is due to kick in from September 2015, meaning that the sooner all universities can communicate what their potential policy changes may be, the better for all concerned.