A-Level Exam Reform: A University Admissions Tutor’s Opinion


Many of the government’s recent changes in education policy have been greeted with opposition. The coalition’s policy on Free Schools, for example, is strongly opposed by the NASUWT  – and the proposal to replace GCSEs with the English Baccalaureate has already been dropped due to criticism by teachers and unions. Now, proposed changes to the A-level exam system have been called into question – by Oxford University’s admission tutor, Mike Nicholson.

Addressing an education forum in central London, Mr Nicholson condemned the changes on many levels.  He spoke of the ‘limited evidence’ that there is a need for any change, calling it another example of the ‘government’s tendency to meddle in things they should probably just leave alone’. He also spoke of the impact of making changes to both the GCSE and A-level systems at once, and the concern that making such changes would just ‘wreck the English education system’.

Mr Nicholson also turned his attention to the proposed changes to the AS-Level examinations, describing AS levels as ‘excellent’ because of their ability to give students ‘a clear indication of what they are capable of achieving’.                  Under the proposed changes, AS levels will be abandoned and A-levels will become linear rather than modular, taking away a student’s chance to review their progress and capabilities, except at the very end of the two year course.

These negative comments make a mockery of the Department of Education’s claim that it is universities, not politicians, who are in charge of the A-level changes – for if this was the case, the opinions of the director of undergraduate admissions at Oxford University would surely count for something. The government, as mentioned at the start of this article, should be used to criticism of changes to their education policy – but these comments from Mr Nicholson need to be taken seriously. If students, teachers and parents are to support the huge changes to our education system that they seem set on implementing, the government needs to have support from universities and the world of work and industry. Mr Nicholson’s comments should, at the very least, have caused those working on education policy to think about the impact of the changes they are hoping to make.

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