To couple or decouple, that’s the political question we teachers face for the General Election

Michael Gove announced in March 2013 that the current system, by which Sixth Form students take AS levels at the end of Year 12 and then complete them at the higher A2 level in Year 13 would cease at the end of this year.  For most subjects (but not Maths and Geography), all change is currently underway, as the Examination boards scrabble to put in place 2 Year A level programmes with no half-way house available.   This is called decoupling, and although students may be able to take an AS, it is not half-the subject nor are the skills examined to be the same either. For subjects such as English, the Sciences, History,and MFL (the Russell Group Facilitating subjects) the changes are quite profound, and will in some ways lead to  a better Year 12 Educational experience, with time given over to developing the highest level skills required for leading University success, and skills perhaps not so fully tested under the current modular regime.

Losing AS levels as a half-way house to A level success is not something either the majority of schools or indeed the majority of Universities wish, and it is quite bizarre that the then Secretary of State chose to go against their recommendations.  University courses are all now modular in nature, with students being able to weave their way through areas of interest and expertise. University admission tutors like being able to review AS performance prior to making an offer, as AS performance is much more likely to indicate probable success at Degree level than broader range GCSE outcomes. Indeed the DfE’s decision to decouple AS was based on research that has now been shown to be very flawed indeed.

On 15 July 2014, Nicky Morgan was appointed Secretary of State for Education in Prime Minister David Cameron’s reshuffle, replacing Michael Gove. On her promotion, she retained her post as Minister for Women and also added the equalities brief to it, thus also becoming Minister for Women and Equalities.  She has quickly become a busy lady (no surprise there) and is doing her best to smooth the stormy waters within Education. Morgan has to work hand in glove with another impressive female leader, Glenys Stacey, who is CEO of Ofqual, an NGO that reports directly to Parliament in Westminster and the Northern Ireland Assembly. While they are independent, they give advice to Government on qualifications and assessment based on their research into these areas.  Trouble is, that research means nothing when politicians decide!

Glenys Stacey is now in the unenviable position of supervising the migration of our national qualifications through a General Election.  Unless Nicky Morgan causes a stay of execution, decoupling takes place and AS as a route to A level dies, if the Conservatives are elected to power in May next year. If Labour are elected, then AS will be recoupled to A2, the Universities will breathe a sigh of relief.  Stacey is having to openly remind schools of this fact. And therein lies the rub for teachers – whether Coalition or Conservative, our vote there goes for another 2 years of turmoil, rewriting of schemes of  work and catering for a mixed diet of coupled Maths and Geog with decoupled everything else in Year 12.  A whole raft of new resources will need to be bought or otherwise developed and that takes time.  Please don’t think this is all that secondary schools have to worry about, as Gove also blessed us with the complete reform of GCSEs at the same time.

Secondary schools with ample specialist staff such as ours can cope with the work load, though it is a sincere waste of time that could be put into the classroom and supporting individual children.  Many secondary schools don’t carry the breadth of specialism we do, so will really find this extra demand hard. Further down the line, as we look back, the ‘Haves’ will be seen to be doing so much better than the ‘Have Nots’, and there is no easy way to assist in bridging that gap.   it’s not the facts that are the problem, but the intellectual, specialist knowledge that is needed to shape academic courses to fit the criteria once revealed.  This coalition government are committed to ensuring greater equity for all, whatever their circumstances, as indeed are all the other main parties. The extraordinary turmoil this and previous governments have caused through their constant meddling with public assessment methods is not something the Teaching profession find easy to manage, so it particularly gets ‘all of our goat’ when we are told we are not doing anything to assist in improving access for the less well off.  To mix the animal metaphor…It’s difficult enough to pin the tail on the Donkey anyway, but blindfolded and with one arm, and with the said beast of burden itself hugely agitated by circumstance, the job’s well nigh impossible!

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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