Thursday, 9 January 2014

Distance learning students sit A levels too: NEC's message to the exam regulator


On 17 January, exam regulator Ofqual closes its consultation on proposals for the revised A level curricula. NEC has just submitted its response, aiming to give a voice to the thousands of distance learners who sit A levels each year.

The consultation seeks views on structure and assessment for new course syllabuses that will be taught from September 2015. Of particular interest for NEC is the move away from course work to assessment by final exam.  Although assessment by written exam has its limitations, the move should open up access to exams for non-traditional learners. The plans to ‘decouple’ the AS level from the A level making it a standalone qualification are also on our list. This will mean that students will have to opt for the full A level from the word go, rather than progressing from the AS to the full A level.

Many of the subjects affected are offered by NEC: biology, English language and literature, geography, economics, history, sociology and psychology. Art and design and computer science are also on the list.

Why A levels matter
A levels are highly valued by employers and universities, and as 250,000 learners sit the exams each year, the consultation is sure to attract a wide variety of views.

The present exam system is geared up for those learners studying full time in schools and colleges, and the questions in Ofqual’s consultation reflect that.  Nowhere in the consultation document’s 108 pages is any reference made to the needs of adults who have missed out on gaining qualifications when they were in full-time education or the increasing numbers of pupils who are home educated.

This is a missed opportunity because government and policy makers are aware that the learning needs of adults and other non-traditional learners needs more recognition.  Lifelong learning helps people adapt to longer working lives, change job roles and learn to use new technologies. We have many examples in NEC of learners who are using their A levels to move into new careers, for example teaching, health and social work. These A levels provide the opportunity for social mobility and contribute to the economic recovery of the country.

Our Argument: keep the link between A levels and AS levels
Achieving qualifications at AS level is a strong motivator for distance learning students to continue to A level.  Good grades at AS level also have the benefit of bringing higher level study a step closer for learners with the ambition to study beyond level 3.  Some distance learners are able to make the financial commitment required for AS levels but would find the longer-term commitment of embarking on an A level course without first studying for an AS level a step too far. For these reasons, NEC is arguing through the consultation for the current link between A and AS level to remain.

For everyone who wants a second chance at learning, for pupils being home educated and for employers and university admissions officers who value being able to recruit from a diverse pool of candidates, NEC asks that the distinctive needs of the distance learner to be reflected in the final proposals for the new A level regulatory requirements. Over to Ofqual.

Ros Morpeth
Chief Executive

The consultation on the new A level regulatory requirements can be accessed on Ofqual’s website http://comment.ofqual.gov.uk/a-level-regulatory-requirements-october-2013/. The deadline for responses is 17 January 2014.

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