As plans to revise A-levels continue to move ahead behind the scenes, Ofqual has published research it has done comparing A-levels with secondary school assessment in other high-performing areas such as Alberta, Finland, Hong Kong, China, Korea and New Zealand.
The more interesting findings are:
1. In England we study fewer subjects in the sixth form and permit earlier specialisation than other countries. We favour depth rather than breadth. Other countries offer a maths course for sixth formers who are weak at maths – like the IB Maths Studies.
2. There is much to be said for the independent dissertation of the sort one sees in History A-level or the Extended Project. Such work develops research skills, deep thought and the ability to synthesise.
3. Our Maths A-level tends to be broader and less deep than the equivalent in some other countries. Also, in England different students can study very different options within Maths A-level so they come to university knowing rather different areas of the subject.
4. We make less use of school-based assessment than other countries. Elsewhere the oral test is regarded as a powerful examining tool – it is demanding and helps pupils to learn to speak.
5. Other countries make more use of multiple-choice questions. Such questions are good at helping to assess a large part of the syllabus quickly. If well set they can test high order thinking skills.