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A-Levels. Designed by universities?…

Today’s news has had a big focus on the Department for Education’s suggestion that the content of A-Level courses should be decided or, at least, approved by universities.  In particular, the DfE has suggested that this should be the Russell Group universities.  Schools would then be recommended (since most will be academies by then, they can’t be required) to only offer A-Levels that have been approved by these universities.  There’s already been a lot of discussion on this topic in the news but the most striking problem to me hasn’t been covered in anything that I’ve read.  My point is simple, how can an incredibly diverse range of university courses be reflected in the few A-Level courses that pupils take?

For obvious reasons, I’m going to focus on Music degree courses.  A quick search of the UCAS website for music based courses comes up with this list.  That’s 41 different degree titles.  Out of curiosity, I then click on the one that said just ‘Music’ and saw this.  Yep, you read it right – 952 courses!  Now, I’m not going to go through the other forty courses and count up the number of degrees that come up (and I’m sure there would be a fair bit of duplication if I did) but I think the point is clear – there’s a huge variety of courses on offer and every one of them has its unique elements.

UCAS also tells us that there are more than 300 institutions in its database.  The Russell Group comprises 20 universities.  With this in mind, isn’t Mr Gove’s plan to ‘better prepare’ students for university study somewhat flawed?  Does Mr Gove honestly believe that an A-Level designed by the Russell Group will prepare students for this myriad of qualifications better than the existing range of A-Levels?

Please do not get me wrong, I am not claiming that the existing A-Levels are perfect.  In fact, my opinion of the traditional qualifications is already on record.  I just don’t believe that the approach being suggested today is going to achieve the goal that has been set.  Nor would it be sensible to get each group of universities (or individual university) to design A-Level courses – a ‘pick this A-Level if you want to study at our institution’ system would ultimately end up limiting students’ options.

I’m not even going to start on some of the more obvious points on this topic (e.g. what about pupils that aren’t going to study at university?) as I know that others have already started to address this.  I’m just hoping that this initiative doesn’t homogenise FE qualifications even more than they already have been.  Vocational qualifications are being undermined, we only have a limited number of exam boards for A-Level and, even then, Edexcel seems to have been adopted as ‘the most serious’ course (one day, I may even blog my rant about the Edexcel Anthology concept).  Do we really need an initiative that could take away what little diversity we already have at Key Stage 5?