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UK universities shouldn’t dictate school exams

UK A level Exam

Ministers are giving British universities too much influence over A levels, according to a leading independent school head.

John Wood, chairman of the Independent Schools Association, will warn the government about its plans to allow universities to dictate the content of A levels. “There is a danger that A levels will become so narrow that students won’t possess the independent learning skills that successful undergraduates need,” he says.

“We must ensure that universities are not given too much influence over the actual content of exams. As competition for university places increases, there is a real risk that schools will feel forced to select certain exam boards, based on their links to higher education institutions.”

Students are not rewarded by the current system for reading around the subject or developing enthusiasm for their subject, Mr Wood will say, and allowing universities to interfere will make matters worse. His speech also addresses the “ever increasing bureaucracy and interference from those in power” suffered by independent schools.”

“The whole notion of an ‘independent’ school is that it is not constrained by compulsory curricula and one wonders how this ever came to pass in the early years stage. “We and our pupils become sapped by the inevitable need to get the best possible results and this does not lead to either the best teaching, or the best learning.

“Consequently universities report that many first year undergraduates do not possess the independent learning skills that successful undergraduates need. “The textbooks have often become focused solely on tests and teachers increasingly report that students ask more, and at an earlier stage, about examination technique and what they need to write to gain easy marks.”

Rather than giving groups of parents’ money to set up ‘free’ schools, the Department for Education should fund places for children at existing independent schools.

“Why is the Government so intent on experimenting with academies and free schools, often at very great capital expense? These remain largely unproven as an engine for change and whilst the government may like to describe them as ‘independent’ they are not, as the secretary of state has direct control over them.

“The suggestion that we in the independent sector should engage in sponsoring academies is only practical for the largest and best endowed schools. Even for them this has the potential to divert their attention away from their core task of providing for their own pupils.

“I do not see the point in opening up untested free schools, when a similar expenditure could be used to fund places for pupils at independent schools.”

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