Martin Robinson (@SurrealAnarchy) wrote an interesting blog on linear A-levels this week (here). He comments unfavourably on the use of AS exams as a ‘mock’ halfway through the course, at the point when “the students should still be pondering and wondering not deciding and revising”. I am planning to use bits of AS papers for the L6th end-of-year exam, and I initially bridled, outraged, at Martin’s views. On re-reading, I think he is talking about making pupils sit the actual AS exam as part of a linear course, and I am in complete agreement. Luckily – for reasons more to do with fear of UCAS rather than any deep teaching philosophy – the school’s policy is that pupils taking linear subjects should not do AS exams. This does not move us away from the fact that, for the next academic year at least, we have a curriculum where Y12 pupils are starting with a mix of four linear and legacy courses and most will therefore have to make a choice about which subject to drop; for right or wrong, their result in our internal L6th exam is going to be an important influence on their decision-making.
Is it in our and their interests to give them a “little test” to keep the bureaucrats happy, as Martin suggests, or a more rigorous end-of-year exam? For all the philosophical debate, we have to make predictions for UCAS forms, and need some solid evidence upon which to base this.This is particularly important as the Business course is changing so radically that our intuitive assessments of expected grades are likely to be off: the recalibration of expectations will take a few years to happen, I suspect. We also have a duty of care to our pupils not to string them along – if they’re not going to do well in a Business exam, then they deserve to know this so they can make choices appropriately. All things considered, I shall stick with the plan of using bits of the AS papers for our end-of-year exam. Does this make me a bureaucrat, as Martin suggests? I don’t think so.
In general, though, I completely agree with Martin’s comments about the slow rthythms of a linear course. I am lucky in that I took linear A-levels, as did everyone else in the department; most of us have taught linear courses too. Between us, we’ve got a pretty good understanding of the way that knowledge needs to build slowly, and I hope that we will have the confidence to wait for that ‘penny drop’ moment, which often happens in Y13 rather than forcing everything together prematurely before an AS exam in Y12. The Lower Sixth should be a year for discovery, for investigation, for spending hours on the cricket pitch or tennis courts rather than swotting in a library. I’m looking forward to it.