Blog: Who's at the wheel? - Simon Lebus

Blog: Who's at the wheel? - Simon Lebus

News came through last week that the A Level Content Advisory Board (ALCAB) is to be to effectively wound up. ALCAB was set up when Michael Gove was still Secretary of State in order to provide a forum for universities to engage more actively with the pre-university curriculum.

This was partly in response to complaints from higher education representatives over many years that students coming to university from school did not have the right study skills, in particular the capacity to research independently and think critically, and also in the sciences that they did not possess sufficient knowledge and technical grasp to be able to embark on their degree courses without some degree of remedial instruction.

The concept behind the policy was therefore that universities should have more involvement in what was taught in schools in order to ensure that students coming into university would be equipped with the skills and knowledge that would allow them to get stuck into their courses quickly.

An alternative approach, which we trialled to broadly positive results in Cambridge, would be to have small subject groups (perhaps organised through learned societies) which could, each autumn, review the previous summer’s exam papers and provide some public commentary on how well the exams did their job in terms of giving students sufficiently challenging tasks and commenting on whether any particular board’s papers were either easier or more difficult. This would provide a light touch way of securing academic involvement in the school exam system and could also help the system self -correct on an annual basis.

But all of this is a long way away from Silicon Valley, California, where I spent the week visiting various Ed Tech companies and, among other things, spotted one of Google’s driverless cars, similar to those currently being trialled in the UK. We tried to catch it up and get a photo but it was too fast for us.

The companies I visited were offering a range of services from print and online textbook rental through to providing learning platforms which gather data about how students acquire mastery of a subject and then use this to construct adaptive learning platforms for new students. We also saw a company that has developed adaptive games for teaching basic maths concepts to pre-school children. Many of these were young companies that have been successful in attracting large amounts of investment capital - reflecting high levels of interest from the investment community in educational technology. In many cases these investors have retained their belief in the education system’s ability to adapt quickly and take on board opportunities offered by technological change; much in contrast it would seem to the bruising experience of many politicians.

In the meantime we learn that anthropology will no longer be offered as an A Level - a shame as sometimes it would seem only an anthropologist could be expected to make sense of the way in which government policies can deconstruct themselves in such a short space of time.

Simon Lebus
Group Chief Executive, Cambridge Assessment

Research for A level reform (pg 6)
Dr Irenka Suto, a Senior Research Officer at Cambridge Assessment, explains how she and other researchers are collaborating with colleagues in its UK exam board OCR, to collect, analyse and report data from Higher Education (HE) representatives systematically.

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