It may be a sleepy day in Westminster, but Michael Gove and his school
reforms have lost none of their brilliant urgency. The schools secretary has today written
to Ofqual — the body in charge of regulating the exams system — to ask that universities be allowed to involve themselves, much more closely than ever before, in designing and
implementing A-levels. In the letter he sums up his plans thus:
‘I want to see new arrangements that allow Awarding Organisations to work with universities to develop qualifications in a way that is unconstrained — as far as possible —
by centrally determined criterion.’
And he adds that this process should eventually allow ‘universities, not Awarding Organisations, to drive the system.’
This makes a great deal of sense. After all, the decline in exam standards is no mirage — and universities, as well as students,
have suffered because of it. They know better than anyone how grade inflation creates a disconnect between results and true ability. And they know better than anyone how to close that gap such that
school-leavers are actually prepared for degree courses.
Of course, as Gove suggested in February, this will likely see more people failing their
A-levels in the short-term — but those failures will be a mark of a wider success. A rigorous exam system helps everyone: from those with top grades who wish to distinguish themselves, to
those with poor grades who don’t want to be impelled towards unnecessary degree courses. And it could help the economy too, by nurturing a more competitive, more capable generation of young folk.
It also makes Gove one of the few ministers who can boast of major achievements already and major achievements to come — a Stage One and a Stage Two to his reforms, so to speak. We have
already free schools and academies, with more on the way. And, if all goes to plan, we might have these university-marshalled A-levels being taught from 2014 and examined from 2016. As it was
at Tory conference, so it is now: one of the sunniest parts of the coalition’s