In Brief

A-level results: How the goalposts have moved

Top grades are rising - but not for the first batch of students sitting a new style of exam

The proportion of students awarded A and A* grades at A-level has risen by 0.5 per cent – the first increase in six years – but dropped slightly in 13 subjects trialling a new exam system.

The exam regulator Ofqual "sought to reassure students that they would not be disadvantaged by being the first to take the revised courses", reports The Guardian. But the regulator denied it had intervened to boost falling grades.

"We have overseen the A-level awarding process in the same way as in previous years and have not intervened to ask any exam board to change the grade boundaries they have set this summer," said Sally Collier, the chief regulator.

How have A-levels been reformed?

"Under the new system, students sit all A-level exams at the end of two years of study, instead of taking modular exams throughout," says the BBC

This linear approach also means A-levels have been "de-coupled" from AS-levels – now a separate qualification that does not count towards an A-level. 

The other significant change, says the Daily Telegraph, is a "reduced emphasis on coursework".

Why did these changes come about?

Critics argued that the old system led to "modular mayhem", says leading educationist Kevin Stannard in the Times Educational Supplement. According to the Telegraph, this fuelled a "cram and forget" approach to learning as opposed to a holistic one, which some experts believe leads to a better grasp of a subject.

Policy Exchange's John Blake told the BBC that the modular system also encouraged a "culture of endlessly resitting examinations", leading to accusations of grade inflation.

The new A-levels, therefore, have been designed to be more academically rigorous, in keeping with their "original function of assisting elite universities in selection", says Stannard

What will the impact of the changes be?  

Whether the new A-level will fulfil its stated purpose of raising the bar in standards remains to be seen.

In the short term, the "upheaval" of the reforms has "created unnecessary stress for pupils and teachers alike", says Rosamund McNeil of the National Union of Teachers. Over time, the changes are intended to create more breathing space for teaching and learning.    

AS levels, meanwhile, are "expected to wither on the vine", says the Telegraph. Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers union, told the BBC this would lead to a "narrowing of options" for students.

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