Would you alter A-levels?


Photo by Elaine Faith

Education Secretary Michael Gove has argued that universities should have more influence over the content of A-levels in order to better prepare students for undergraduate level of study. The proposition has been met with both positive and negative feedback from teachers and universities, with suggestions that universities lack sufficient resources and time to change A-levels. It has also been said that alterations would be unfair to those students not wishing to go to university, who would need different skills to aid them in employment. However, others feel that A-Levels ought to be reformed so to better prepare students for independent study and the increased  complexity that studying at degree level poses.

Why not allow universities to alter A-levels? With many A-level students continuing to undergraduate level, surely they need as much help as they can get. If earning a place at university depends on A-level grades, the input from universities makes sense in ensuring students have the best chance possible. Some students struggle to reach the standards expected of an undergraduate, having never had the appropriate teaching to guarantee a smoother leap from A-level to university. Starting a degree is seen to be daunting because of the extra workload and the higher standard of work that is required. If universities influenced A-level content, students would feel as if they could cope more because their A-levels would have prepared them for the higher level of study. Time and money would also be saved because there would be less of a demand for extra classes to be created to help struggling students catch up.

It could be said that since not all A-level students continue to study further, it would be unfair to steer A-levels solely towards preparing students for undergraduate level. However, since many A-level students do intend to go to university, it is more beneficial to consider the needs of the majority of students. Those not continuing to degree level would still gain A-levels of substance that would prepare them to enter into a degree scheme in later life, should they wish to. If not, undergraduate study also allows students to acquire skills they could use in employment such as communication and organisational skills, so the university-influenced A-levels would still prove beneficial to them.

Furthermore, reformed A-levels would prepare students for the independent approach to studying they would face at undergraduate level. The prospect of having to collect individual research and use it to compose work that is marked on a first draft basis seems extremely off-putting to students who have always been told exactly what to do by their teachers, and who have had their work extensively checked during their GCSE and A-levels. If universities were allowed more input into A-level content, students would not feel as intimidated by the nature of study they must adapt to at degree level.

Although it has been said that input from universities at A-level would prove unsuccessful in a number of ways, I feel that it would actually be extremely beneficial. The intention of many A-level students is to go to university, so why should they not be helped as much as possible? Also, if those not going to university wished to study for a degree in the future, the A-levels they studied would have sufficiently equipped them with the knowledge required to successfully study at undergraduate level. The perfect balance would be to have more input from universities so students are ready to undertake a more complex level of study, however, to the extent that those not continuing to undergraduate level can still utilise the skills they gain during A-levels in employment.

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