How about a summer holiday for A Levels? - RSA

How about a summer holiday for A Levels?


  • Education
  • Schools

This weekend I am part of a group of volunteers taking a crowd of kids camping. I’ve done this almost every year of my adult life, usually during the summer holidays. Normally, the children’s ages range from about seven to eighteen. This weekend, the cut off point is fifteen – anyone older is spending the weekend revising or pretending to revise for exams (I remember my late night O Level revision accompanied by the distractions of the World Cup in Mexico).

Amongst the debates around modularity and retakes, nobody has yet dared propose any tinkering with the timings of public examinations. After the previous government’s half-hearted attempt at Diplomas, GCSEs are here to stay, and their terminal exams won't budge from their summertime slot. However, here’s an idea for A Levels and other post-16 qualifications.

Many schools and university leaders believe that the current pre-qualification University application process that most students go through is illogical. Employers also agree. Although an offer based on predicted grades may motivate some, it probably confuses the majority, and may also have negative impacts on a more socially fair university intake, although this is unproven.

Despite this, universities appear unwilling to change the rhythm of their calendar. Too many other issues and processes are bound up in this, and it would probably be impossible for a single University to do this alone.

However, it might be possible for a single 16-19 institution or group of schools and colleges,to take a different approach, with some indication of support from Universities. In three year's time, a pupil’s journey from GSCEs to their post-19 future could look something like this:

June 2015                            Completes GCSE examinations

Sept – Dec 2015                 Citizen Service/ Internship Part One, plus retakes

Jan 2016                               Starts A levels and other post-16 qualifications

Dec 2018                              Examinations and complete qualifications

Feb 2019                              Receives results

Feb -  Aug 2019                 Applies for degree, Citizen Service/Internship Part Two

Sept - Oct 2019                  Begins degree, employment and/or other further study

I see four advantages to this change. First, it would simplify degree and other application processes and possibly make them fairer. No more reliance on predicted grades and the frenetic September nightmare of Clearing. Second, it would embed citizen service and internships into every young person’s life as a valuable element of the graduation process from school. Third, it would spread out the GCSE and A Level exam pressures for 11-18 schools and teachers over two points in a year rather than one. And finally, thousands of eighteen year olds could revise during a shivering autumn rather than a sweltering summer (although, unfortunately for some newspapers, photos of pupils receiving their results in the winter would feature fewer crop tops and more anoraks).

There are probably pitfalls to this idea, and I am not even going to try and enter the labyrinth of post-16 funding to work out budgetary implications. I am also aware that I have largely focused on the less than 40% who go to university in their teens, rather than those leaving for employment or other routes, and would especially appreciate comments on this issue. However, in partnership with universities, voluntary organisations and the employers needed to make this three year cycle thrive (and possibly pump primed by Government) might there be a local authority or group of Academies out there willing to experiment with a longer, more rounded and character-building post-16 learning journey?


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