Michael Gove Ends the Dreams of Thousands

Published: 30th January 2013

A-Level Reforms Announced

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove has announced a return to the 2 year linear style A-level course.  AS levels will remain as stand-alone qualifications for 17 year old students but will not form part of the full A-level course.

Mr Gove said that these changes are necessary to maintain rigour and put a stop to the "obstacle course" of examination for 16-18 year olds. He told MPs that he was "worried that there was too much assessment and too little learning."

In addition to this, schools are to be measured in league tables by how many "Russell Group ready" students have obtained the right grades in the "right" subjects.

The Historical Association is wholly unsupportive of this move and the impact that it will have on history education for 16-18 year olds. Over 900 people responded to a Historical Association poll in which 70% of respondents indicated that they did not wish to see a return to a linear 2 year A-Level course. The Historical Association submitted these views to a consultation on A-Level reform. The letter from Michael Gove to Ofqual seems selective in referencing subject feedback. You can view the letter here.

These reforms are unnecessary. The AS/A2 level in history is welcomed by universities; Cambridge University see the AS/A2 examination as "good preparation" for university education and the demands of an undergraduate degree and the AS level is used by universities to provide offers as the best indicator of ability. Without this, universities will once again have to rely upon predicted grades to make their offers.

Since the introduction of AS/A2 level history in 2000, history uptake for 16-18 year olds has increased and is the fifth most popular subject. Though not all students will have continued to obtain a full A-Level in history; the fact that more students are currently continuing their study of history beyond the age of 16 is to be applauded, not destroyed.  These reforms will ensure that once again students, especially the less able and disadvantaged are scared away from history and will only serve to reinforce inequality. Cambridge University have condemned the reforms saying that they will "jeopardise over a decade's progress towards fairer access to the University of Cambridge."

This inequality will be reinforced by the fact that schools are to be judged in league tables by how many students are achieving top grades in subjects such as history. With this level of accountability in place, less able and disadvantaged students will find themselves actively barred from pursuing their study of history beyond the age of 16 by schools keen to maintain positions in the league tables. Ofsted found history to be one of the most popular subjects in their recent report History For All. For many students a love of studying history drives them to continue their study, even if it is not their best subject. That drive has already to overcome many schools stopping students from studying history past the age of 14. Now those that have made it past GCSE will find the barrier raised once again.

History will become elitist and the preserve of those students whom these reforms are clearly designed to benefit.