One of this week’s most important stories is tucked away in the Times’ Higher Education supplement today. It appears that one of Michael Gove’s most important reforms, putting universities—not Whitehall—in charge of A-levels, is being reversed.
The article reports that the A Level Content Advisory Board (ALCAB), which was meant to check on A-levels annually, ‘is to be registered as a dormant company after it was informed by the Department for Education that it would not receive any more substantive work until at least 2017, when the first students will sit the reformed A-levels.’
Now, the Department for Education is claiming that the ALCAB has simply completed its work for the moment. A DfE spokesman told me, 'We will continue to involve universities in A-level reform. We asked the A Level Content Advisory Board to provide advice on subject content for maths and further maths, foreign languages and geography A-levels, and it successfully completed this work.' While those close to Morgan stress that it will, if the Tories are back in government, be revived once the new A-levels are in place come 2017.
But reading the letters between the ALCAB and Nicky Morgan, it is clear that it did not want to be made dormant. Morgan’s letter to its chair Professor Nigel Thrift acknowledges that he wanted it to keep ‘ticking-over’. As Thrift wrote to Morgan, ‘In most of the subjects which we have reviewed the new A-level content will be significantly different from that of the current qualification and it will only be after the first syllabuses and prototype assessments are developed and reviewed that we shall be able to be confident that our intentions have been realised.’
The cost of running the ALCAB are, in government terms, minimal. So, it seems highly regrettable that it is being made dormant rather than told to carry on with its important work. All those who want A-levels to be rigorous, and not dumbed down, should worry about this decision.