All would agree with The Royal Society’s contention in its report ‘Vision for science and mathematics education’, published today, that we need a population equipped with a better level of scientific and mathematical knowledge to meet the demands of a 21st century economy. What is less certain is that this is likely to be achieved by replacing the A Level system with a new baccalaureate qualification.
This is because compelling uptake through qualification frameworks is likely to be a less effective way of securing change than developing a range of engaging and interesting syllabuses that covers the ground in a way that reflects the needs and interests of a highly diverse group of learners destined to follow multiple academic and career paths.
A further period of major qualification upheaval would also be unwelcome, especially as some of these concerns will be catered for in the proposed new post-16 “Core Maths” curriculum, announced at the end of last year. Indeed, other options plugging this gap already exist such as OCR’s new Level 3 Quantitative Methods qualification, developed with maths experts, MEI, which offers an alternative for students who are looking to enhance their mathematical skills don’t wish to take a full AS or A Level.
If we are thinking about baccalaureate-style qualifications, we should look at successful international comparators like Germany and Finland, where what is striking is that although six or seven subjects are studied at upper secondary, students eventually end up taking only three or four exams, much like our A Levels. It again illustrates the fundamental point that successful education systems focus on curriculum principles, and that qualification reform should follow not define that.
Group Chief Executive of Cambridge Assessment and Chairman of OCR