A better approach to Higher Education/exam board interaction for post-16 qualifications

23 June 2011

Proposals from Cambridge Assessment to restore the link between universities and A Levels have been welcomed by the Universities Minister, David Willetts.

Greater involvement of university academics in setting the content of A Levels would both be a better guarantee of school standards and improve the university admissions process, according to a policy paper from the University of Cambridge's international exams group.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: "Universities know about the strengths and weaknesses of their entry qualifications, such as A Levels. So it makes sense for universities and exam boards to work closer together on qualification design, just as they used to in the past. It could help improve confidence in the exam system and help pupils prepare for university life. So I am very grateful to Cambridge Assessment for showing one way how this might happen."

The paper produced by Cambridge Assessment argues that if university dons set the content of A Levels, with exam boards focusing on how to test that knowledge, the state could greatly reduce its role in setting exam standards.

It argues that this would return A Levels to their original role as the key filter for university entrance, guaranteeing that school-leavers arrive at university with the academic knowledge they will need to succeed in university courses.

The paper argues that, over the past 40 years, the government has taken an 'ever-increasing' role in setting exam standards. This has led to a 'divorce' between the exams and their main users, the universities.

Cambridge Assessment argues that changes along these lines would end the constant tinkering with syllabuses, as exams would only need to change when leading academics felt change was needed.

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