I am not from the educational establishment and, having seen two daughters through state schools, I have plenty of zeal for major reform.
But that reform does not encompass sending a copy of the King James Bible to every school nor yet banishing the Arts from the nation’s principal academic qualification.
In so many ways Michael Gove uses the same techniques as his colleague Eric Pickles: pander to the right wing press, eschew evidence based thinking, make a splash.
The AS level announcement this week is just one more example. I didn’t have the option of AS levels. I sat O-levels in a nice public school and then spent a couple of years working towards A levels. After that I could worry about University and the Oxbridge entrance exams.
This was not the path for most: normal people applied for University before they got their A level results and some, inevitably, would spend two years in the sixth form and have precious little to show for it.
AS levels were introduced as a building block towards A levels (A2s): they allow progression to be made and to be rewarded, since AS scores count towards the final A2 grades. They allow a broader post-GCSE syllabus and can rescue pupils from subjects which seemed sensible at GCSE but which turned out to be wholly unsuitable in the sixth form.
Gove, however, is clear. AS levels should no longer count towards A2 grades, so that, he says, pupils will develop a “better understanding of their subject”. He adds:
the primary purpose of A-levels is to prepare students for degree-level study.
The logic escapes me. Nor do I believe that A-levels have the function he describes.
One might hope that the Universities would applaud his claims that the result will be greater rigour. But Cambridge, quite a famous University, has said:
AS results show an applicant’s most recent academic achievement and demonstrate progress since GCSE in a transparent and objective way. Neither GCSEs, admissions tests nor school predictions come close to matching the effectiveness of AS in enabling the proper and full assessment of applications.
More alarmingly a Cambridge spokesperson has added:
We have to consider whether we should instead have pre-interview testing or testing at the time of the interview.
So what consultation took place with leading (or any) Universities? What evidence is there that the effective abolition of AS levels will help anyone at all?
The prospect of the reintroduction of University entrance exams may take me back to the long hot summer of 1976. But for most this isn’t turning the clock back. It is simply moving many universities out of reach.
* Chris White is a Hertfordshire County Councillor and Deputy Leader (Policy) of the Liberal Democrat Group at the Local Government Association