Linear programmes of learning are where students gain their qualification largely through exams at the end of their study rather than through a series of modules. This means that, unlike a modular system, separate elements cannot be retaken to gain a higher qualification if necessary. This has been interpreted in terms of ‘stretch and challenge’ within teaching and learning, in which higher order learning is developed within the existing framework of the subject.
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There is concern that this stretch and challenge within the delivery of teaching material may not be reflected in the assessments, and the fact that there are different organisations awarding qualifications may affect the extent to which this increased challenge for more able students can be achieved in practice. This concern rests largely on the possibility that the greater demands placed on students may result in greater variation in how these may be assessed and delivered for all students owing to the differences in exam boards’ syllabuses. This potentially opens up greater variation in the qualifications market. There are differences between subjects in the extent to which such changes make the linear A-levels more challenging. In Geography, there is a perception that the removal of the coursework element of the learning experience makes the subject less challenging and that this reduces extent to which the essential fieldwork skills are taught. In GCSE, it has been argued that there is an increased focus on teaching and learning for the demands of the examination, and an increase in content leads to a loss of depth of study in some subjects such as English. Linear assessment was, however, seen as a way in which deeper and longer-lasting learning may be developed, particularly when related to subject-specific skills. The decoupling of AS levels means that AS results may not count towards an ‘A’ level as they do at present. This means that AS level courses may be changed to be taught alongside the first year of A-levels, rather than contributing to the actual A-level course. This means that there is a need to provide separate syllabuses for the AS courses when compared to the A-level course, and there may be limited benefit to having AS and A-levels in the same subject. This increases the burden of developing different syllabuses for the same subject upon the qualifications, which means the qualifications market may respond through a decreased number of subjects being provided by the type of qualification bodies. However, this means that there is still an opportunity for students to undertake a range of subjects, permitting a balanced curriculum to be developed. Several subjects have thus been removed from GCSE, AS and A-level and the content has been included in other subjects. It is currently too early to state whether the changes in the qualifications will substantively affect the makeup of the qualifications market,
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