Select Committee on Education and Skills Third Report


The new structure of the A level

  11. In September 2000, a completely revised A level curriculum was introduced. This was an entirely modular curriculum which required candidates to take modules as they proceeded through the course, rather than only being examined in a single session at the end of the course. Generally all students now take the Advanced Subsidiary [AS] Level in Year 12 and then, where appropriate, continue to Year 13 to complete their A level by taking the A2 examinations.

  12. Curriculum 2000 divided the A level into two parts: three units at AS level which, together, equate to the first year of a traditional A level course, and three A2 units which are awarded during the second year of study. When taken together these six units comprise a full GCE A level and form the basis for an A level award. The three units studied in the first year at AS level can, if the student wishes, be 'cashed in' to provide a certificated qualification in its own right. Each unit of the award is equally weighted, with the AS and A2 programmes each accounting for 50 % of the overall grade.[11]

The policy objective of the AS

  13. The DfES hoped that students would take a broad range of AS level courses during the first year of study - up to four or five. They would then be able to narrow their studies in the second year by selecting the subjects which they would pursue to the full GCE A level standard, whilst receiving a qualification for subjects they pursue no further. Students could also retake units to seek to improve their grade.[12]

  14. Mike Tomlinson concluded in his interim report that the entirely modular curriculum, which allowed students to retake units, "might reasonably have been expected to lead to an increase, compared to the former 'legacy' A levels, in the proportion of full A level candidates who achieved the GCE A level standard without any change in the overall level of demand of the qualification".[13]

  15. Curriculum 2000 was designed to provide students with greater flexibility. Mike Tomlinson concluded that flexibility had been achieved through the "broadened range of subjects and types of learning within the A level strand, for instance by establishing A levels in vocational subjects".[14]

  16. Ofsted told us that there were some problematic inbuilt design features in Curriculum 2000. Evidence from Ofsted's survey[15] and other subject inspections suggested that Curriculum 2000 had, on occasion, narrowed the students' range of knowledge and experience within subjects, whilst not always succeeding in broadening coverage of the areas of the curriculum through the choice of a range of contrasting AS courses.[16]

Celebrating Curriculum 2000

  17. We took evidence from people who had been involved in teaching Curriculum 2000. Mr Neil Hopkins, Principal of Peter Symonds College, Winchester, was supportive of the new curriculum, although he believed "that AS and A2 was introduced very quickly, too quickly frankly, and we worked very, very hard to make it work. There were some problems with it but in proportion I do not think the problems were that extreme."[17] He said that there were "still some confusions" which were beginning to be clarified.[18] He reminded us of the many changes made to the examination system in the last few years and said that schools did "not want too many changes. We want to settle down and make some sense of this scheme."[19] Mr Hopkins highlighted the "tremendous benefits" of the new curriculum; "it has given accessibility via the AS to people who would not have got an advanced level before".[20]

  18. Mr Tony Neal, Headmaster of De Ashton School, Lincolnshire, agreed that "the system of AS and A2 is better for students and better for everyone than the old system".[21] He believed more work was needed to clarify the standards of AS and A2 levels. Dr McLone, Chief Executive of the OCR awarding body, told us that Curriculum 2000 had been a "great success" as a new curriculum because, "it had allowed students to move into a broader number of subjects".[22] Mr Edward Gould, Master of Marlborough College, reminded us that the criticism of Curriculum 2000 in most schools was "purely related to assessment. [It was] not related to Curriculum 2000, which we welcome."[23] He was concerned that universities continued to demand three A levels for admission, showing no acceptance of the AS/A2 framework. This practice discouraged the diversity of curriculum the AS and A2 examinations were designed to encourage.[24]

  19. Ofsted's evidence to the Committee was drawn from their wide experience of school inspections, and concluded that students faced an ever more exacting schedule of assessment, and that the character of Year 12 has changed dramatically. They believed that the curriculum changes had produced beneficial effects in concentrating teachers' and students' minds and giving a real sense of purpose, and that they had broadly maintained the rigour and depth expected for advanced study.[25]

11   Tomlinson interim report, para 10.  Back

12   Ibid, para 11. Back

13   Ibid, para 12. Back

14   Inquiry into A level standards - Final Report, Mike Tomlinson, December 2002, paragraph 17. Back

15   QCA 25 Ofsted Section B1. Back

16   Ibid. Back

17   Q.270 Back

18   Q.281 Back

19   Ibid. Back

20   Ibid. Back

21   Ibid. Back

22   Q.126 Back

23   Q.281 Back

24   Ibid. Back

25   Ev. 134 (QCA 25 Section B1). Ofsted published a report: Curriculum 2000: implementation on 21 March 2003 which expanded on the evidence it gave to the Committee.  Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 14 April 2003