On Friday, Ofqual (the body which regulates exams) announced that after this academic year there will no longer be any AS or A2 (A Level) exams sat in January. A little bit of history has been made, or perhaps revisited, as January exams have been part of the educational landscape since the introduction of AS and A2 Levels in the year 2000. The big move back then was to split the old A Level course with exams sat at the end of two years of study into two halves. AS exams sat in the Lower Sixth and A2 exams in the Upper Sixth are currently together to form the A Level.
As a result, schools were able to enter pupils to sit papers not just in the summer but also in January. This allowed some pupils to take papers early in the year, thereby potentially reducing the number of papers to be sat in the summer. It also enabled pupils to re-sit papers to improve their results over time. It is easy to see why this option seems attractive, especially with the pressure on the best possible grades to secure entrance to university. However, we had a brief discussion about this at a Head of Department's meeting at King's this evening and their unanimous view was that this was a good thing and I am in total agreement with them.
The option of re-sitting papers may seem like a good thing, especially if a pupil has a bad day and 'catches a piano'. However, it arguably creates even greater pressure on pupils who may think, 'What if I managed to bump up a few extra marks'. To re-sit a paper six months later requires decent preparation which will inevitably intrude into other work and I have seen in other schools how some pupils do not put enough effort into the first sitting because of the option of re-taking later. The worst case scenario is the paper sat in January of the Lower Sixth, then re-sat in the summer, again in the January of the Upper Sixth and once more in the summer. In addition, the January papers are spread over a three week period and the loss of pupils from the classroom has a negative effect on the teacher's ability to keep the class moving forwards.
For sure there will be a transition period during which some may feel that opportunities have been taken away. However, our pupils are the most over-examined in the world and I am fond of the adage that, 'if you want to know how well your carrots are growing it doesn't help to keep pulling them up to have a look'. It will be good to get January back for teaching rather than a piecemeal period of disrupted lessons and that will ultimately be better for the pupils.