A personal view by Molly, who is currently studying at a further education college in the East Midlands
In the last year, the A level reforms have completely turned the post-16 education system on its head. Although I was made aware of these changes when choosing my options, I couldn’t have possibly anticipated the effect it would have on my education and attainment of grades.
Being the first year to be impacted by these changes definitely posed numerous issues, for me as well as my entire school year. At the time I was attending open days for colleges and sixth forms in about the November of 2014, it became apparent that not all of the subject specifications had been distributed (in their final form at least) and in some cases even written by the exam boards. At the time, this hardly caused an issue, especially as we were told on many occasions that the specifications and resources would definitely be ready for the course start in the summer of 2015. However, this lead to another issue: they really were not joking about them being ready just in time.
For many of the new linear courses, the specifications had only been available for two weeks prior to the courses’ start. This meant that the teaching staff were unfamiliar with the course content and had had very little, if any, time to prep lessons and try and understand what had to be delivered, especially the new aspects of the specification. This lead to issues throughout the year, often with us being taught on how the teacher interpreted the new syllabus, which meant for us there was lots of both under and over-teaching in some areas as there was no information on the depth in which certain things needed to be taught, which, as you can imagine, made it quite difficult when revising for exams.
On top of that, for some science courses, additional changes to the syllabus were made weeks before the AS examinations took place, which undoubtedly put even more pressure on both students and teaching staff to cram information at the last minute.
Another thing which was seemingly forgotten about by the exam boards was grade boundaries, with not even an outline as to how they might expect the boundaries to look in the exams. The specimen papers provided also had either extremely brief mark schemes, to which there were many more possible correct answers, or no mark scheme at all. For students, this meant that any mock exams we took were almost meaningless, as they gave no further insight as to how we were likely to do in exams and areas we needed to work on.
All of these additional issues, on top of the extra pressure and such major changes in teaching style and expectations of students at A level, were definitely reflected in the attainment of grades and the stress levels of my year group. I can’t think of a single person in my school year taking A levels who has not at some point in the year had at least a day off for stress or to catch up on the overwhelming workload put onto them, especially in the run-up to exam season.
All in all, I don’t think the changes to the examination process are a bad thing in themselves. The linearisation of the exam system allows for students, particularly in cases of low attainment, to learn from how they dealt with A level study in the first year and apply that to the second year without any repercussions of having to re-sit exams in the second year, when there is immense pressure to perform well and obtain high grades.
However, the way in which the changes have been executed has meant that the system has almost collapsed under itself, and I can but hope that the next year of A level students have at least some of the creases ironed out so their study is more black and white.