Controversial plans by Education Secretary Michael Gove to hive off AS-levels as a stand-alone qualification would be ditched by a Labour government, shadow schools minister Kevin Brennan has said.
In a letter to the exams regulator Ofqual, Mr Brennan said Labour had concerns it would damage attempts to encourage poorer students to go to university, and narrow choice for teenagers considering their futures. If Labour were to win the general election in 2015, they would not go ahead with the move to decouple AS-levels from A-levels, he said.
The proposal, set out by Mr Gove in January, is due to be introduced in September 2015. If Labour were to take office in May that year, it would mean a last-minute overhaul of the A-level system to halt the change before the autumn. Mr Gove has maintained that reform of A-levels, including changes to AS-levels, are necessary, and insisted that academics support the plans.
In his letter to Ofqual chief executive Glenys Stacey, Mr Brennan said it is right that consideration is given to reforming A-levels and AS-levels to ensure they are fit for purpose. But he says: "We cannot, however, support a policy that undermines both rigour and equity." There is "compelling evidence" that the AS-level change will "undermine progress made in widening access to higher education", Mr Brennan said. AS-levels are also a key indicator used by universities when making offers to students, he added.
Mr Brennan concluded that while he understands that Mr Gove has directed Ofqual to make the change, he believes it is important to make Labour's position clear. "A future Labour government in 2015 would not proceed with the decoupling of AS and A-levels", the letter said. "AS-levels, under Labour, would continue to be a building block towards an A-level grade and students would, as now, be given the option to choose which AS-level subjects they pursue to A2."
An Ofqual spokesman said the regulator had received the letter and would respond in due course.
Under the current system, sixth-formers sit AS-levels after one year of study before choosing which subjects to carry on for the second year (A2) to gain an A-level. But the major shake-up of A-levels announced by Mr Gove will see AS-levels separated from A-levels to become a qualification in their own right. Teenagers taking A-levels will no longer sit exams after one year, and will instead be tested at the end of their two-year course.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We need qualifications that match the world's best and command the respect of the best universities and employers. For too long academics at leading universities have been concerned with current A-levels - with nearly three-quarters of lecturers having to adapt their teaching for poorly prepared students.
"Our reforms will enhance A-levels to better prepare students for higher education and ensure that competition for university places is fairer. Linear A-levels will end an over-reliance on resits so all pupils develop a real understanding of a subject."
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "We wholly support Labour's decision to reverse a decision that was wrong in the first place. There is no convincing argument for decoupling A-levels and state and independent schools and universities are unanimous that this will harm rather than help standards. We hope that there will be no need to reverse the decision in 2015 as the current government will listen to reason and abandon the plan."