The Oxford 'A' Level examination in Design: An interim appraisal of an experimental approach.
The first examination of this syllabus to be held has just taken place so that an interim appraisal is possible.The intention of the sponsors was to establish an A level course in which practical work within a design framework was used as a means of identifying intellectual ability and original thinking. It was essential to avoid 'soft option' and hence the standards of assessing are vital to success. Since the very natur~ of the course calls for just those qualities that are least easily identified, let alone assessed, this is no easy task.
Having got the syllabus accepted and the schools ready to introduce courses in it, Malcolm Deere, on the recommendation of the sponsors, was appointed examiner. He had previously had considerable experience of assessing design project work at undergraduate level and has since put in a great deal of effort in organising methods that seek to reflect the intention of the syllabus. Not only has a lot of time been spent on personal interviews for assessment purposes, but a close watch has been kept on the work throughout the course so that, by the time the assessment took place, an understanding between student and examiner could exist. Although if numbers are later to increase this sort of close scrutiny may no longer be possible, it is essential in the trial period and everyone connected with the syllabus is grateful for what has been done.
The assessment consists of two written papers of three hours duration. Paper I deals with the sections of the syllabus entitled, 'Man as an individual', and 'Man in society' and Paper II with the section, 'Technology'. The candidate also submits for assessment his coursework which includes, 'working showing general investigations of visual, tactile, spatial and structural qualities', as well as a major design project. With the project he must submit documentary evidence including a report, which, 'indicates the extent to which he has understood the problem and his approach in trying to solve it'. Finally the candidate is interviewed by the examiner as part of the assessment. Much of the judgment in this total assessment must be subjective and has to be taken on trust. At the same time, as with all public examinations, the examining board bears the responsibility of fixing standards and of awarding the final grades. In the case of an experimental syllabus such as this the Schools Council also holds a watching brief. Full evidence is therefore submitted to the Board for this purpose.