We told you so Mr Gove

The beginning of any academic year is never without its challenges – but we are currently faced with one that we saw coming but could do little about. Mr Gove’s changes to A Levels are looming – and they are causing a real headache. His upheaval of the tried and tested AS/A Level structure was no doubt well-intended, but if Mr Gove’s desired legacy was that of positive change, all he has left in his wake is confusion, for the time being at least.

It’s partly a problem of the transience of the world of politics – big changes are pushed through by key ministers whose time is limited. New initiatives are rushed through, without proper testing or a sensible, methodical approach. When we originally heard about the proposed changes, we all knew it was too much too soon. Over a year ago Heads up and down the country were warning that the rapid changes were ‘high-risk’ and a ‘huge gamble’.

There were – and still are – concerns about changing A Levels to a linear system, essentially destroying the AS qualification, leaving no milestones in the Sixth Form to help teachers and students calibrate their ability and achievement. However, the pressing concern is the uncertainty it has caused now that Year 11s are making important choices about subjects for Sixth Form next year. Qualifications are yet to be accredited and the curriculum – only a year away – is still under construction, even though the government said it would be ready by now.

Our Head of History, Mrs Wilkinson, will see the new A Levels arrive next September, but it is leaving her with a real conundrum right now. In a couple of weeks she will meet with Year 11s and parents as they discuss A Level options. She wants to talk knowledgeably and passionately about choosing History at A Level and what this will include – but she can’t as there are huge holes in the information available. Ofqual are being rightly robust in accrediting qualifications from the various exam boards under the new changes, but Mrs Wilkinson is left in limbo. If you look on Ofqual’s website today, the full details of qualifications available for A Level History – along with English and other subjects – are conspicuous by their absence.

I don’t blame Ofqual – this is a labour of love for them too and we want our regulator to be rigorous. But what do Heads of Departments tell Year 11s now about what topics they will be learning only next year? Students will suffer too from this lack of clarity. The government’s over-zealous approach has left us in this predicament. We always said it was going to take too long to set this up and have done all we can to prepare – more than many other schools – but our hands are tied.

So Mr Gove, where are you now? You might be gone but we are here picking up the pieces as your rushed changes filter slowly through an ill-prepared educational system. It’s making for a painful process and it gives me no pleasure at all to say –
I told you so.


Caroline Jordan, Headmistress, Headington School

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