A Level Choices and "facilitating subjects"

(62 Posts)
Phaedra11 Sat 08-Feb-14 10:00:42

My son is in Year 11 at a local state school which doesn't have a sixth college. He hopes to continue with A levels at the nearby sixth college which has a very good reputation. The A levels he wishes to do are: English Lit, Law, Sociology and IT. I am aware that A level Law is widely thought of as irreverent, even if you go on to study Law at university but he really wants to do it, partly because he thinks it would show him whether he does want to pursue it further and also he's really attracted to the mock trials that the college participates in. He wants to study the other subjects because he enjoys them.

I've always thought that studying the subjects you have a passion for was the best bet, but was concerned to read on another thread that to stand a chance of getting into a decent university, you need to have A levels in two facilitating/traditional subjects. I assume English Lit would qualify but not the others. He definitely does not want to study Maths or Sciences, though he already has A grades in GCSE Maths and Biology and is predicted As for Chemistry, Physics and Further Maths. History is a possibility but I know he would rather study the other subjects and I have been told by a friend with insider knowledge that the teaching of History at the college has been comparatively weak recently with a fast turnover of history staff.

I don't know whether to say anything to DS about this or not. He is already feeling the pressure of imminent GCSEs. We did discuss initially whether History might be a better option if he does go further with Law but in the end he decided against it. I think it is possible/quite likely that he would achieve better grades in the subjects he prefers. He has no particular ambitions for Oxbridge but does hope to go to university. The school has given guidance on applying for college but not on A level choices. The Sixth Form college has said that they are flexible about A level choices at this point and it is quite possible to change options in the initial induction period.

Any advice?

antimatter Sun 09-Feb-14 15:05:06

What makes him believe he can't get A in Maths A level?

Phaedra11 Sun 09-Feb-14 15:22:33

Antimatter, it's confidence and I have no idea whether it's founded or not. We did talk about it with his Maths teacher at Parents Evening and she thought he would be fine at A level and pointed out that some of what he's doing in GCSE Further Maths is in the A level curriculum. When I reminded him of that, he said it would only be the easier bits though! He seems to think that there will come a point with Maths where he will no longer understand.

I think a lot of it is comparing himself to other people. He's always been in the top Maths set but not top of the top Maths set. Also he sees people like DS2 and a couple of his friends who appear to find it all very easy and actually enjoy it. This makes him think Maths A level is for people like them, not him. I will talk to him again.

BTW- I've read this thread from the beginning and realised that some of what I've said about DS's ambitions has been contradictory. Apologies for that. The reason is that what you've all said had prompted me to have several little chats with DS and he's said different things at different times. I think there has been some progression though and I'm sure we're both better informed now.

antimatter Sun 09-Feb-14 15:36:23

people who are in the top of the top match set will go onto studying maths

he needs it to help him to move up one step towards what he wants to do

I think he needs perhaps another chat with a teacher re: A levels math, I am sure if he does further maths at gcse he will be more than capable of achieving A

I would not do IT, I don't think he will find it interesting enough, if it was Computing - then it would be more likely alongside of his current interest I think.

If he does Eng Lit, Maths - he would cover a lot of possibilities and also would give himself advantage in the future when applying for graduate jobs.

ChocolateWombat Mon 10-Feb-14 10:10:51

I find it shocking that all schools and colleges aren't giving out the Informed Choices document to all of their students for whom RG type Uni might be an option.
As the document says, any facilitating subject, for Law, but History is particularly recommended, although not essential. History builds the skill of evaluating and questioning evidence (think of the source questions and essays) which is why most people doing alas degrees have it as an A level. Interestingly, law schools are also very interested in taking History graduates onto their Law conversion programmes too, due to the skills built up.
So for social sciences at Uni, don't think in terms of doing that subject at A level as necessary at all. Ensure at least 2 facilitating subjects can be carried onto A2 and beyond that, the 3rd can be a social science if you really want to do one.

ChocolateWombat Mon 10-Feb-14 11:22:27

OP, when your child decides (realise they may have a bit longer to make decision) it would be good to know what options they do go for.
And, if you feel you have had to get the info you needed here, rather than from the school, I'd mention it to them. Perhaps they will then do a better job at informing next years Year 11s. I just think it is awful that some perfectly able children, get to the end of Year 12 or start of Year 13 and find the places or courses they would like to apply for are not open to them, because they weren't told the relevant information about what universities want.

ISingSoprano Mon 10-Feb-14 11:37:54

ChocolateWombat I think part of the problem is that when students are applying to sixth form which is not part of their school there is very little advice from the school in terms of choosing subjects.

ChocolateWombat Mon 10-Feb-14 11:48:37

ISing, good point. This might well be the reason it happens, but it needs addressing doesn't it. Careers or A level advice given in 11to16 schools needs be as relevant as that given in 11to18 schools.

I guess the 11to16s don't tend to get the negative comeback, from kids and parents finding doors closed to them, because they are no longer at that school, by the time they find the doors closed. They need to be given the negative feedback though and have this issue pointed out to them. I have lost track of if the OP is in an 11to16, but think probably yes. The OP needs to tell that school that they have not given her child the advice they needed to make informed choices. They had to go online to find it. It's great the OP now has the right info, but lots of those Year 11s are making choices without the information. Their parents expect the school to tell them what they need to know.

ISingSoprano Mon 10-Feb-14 12:26:20

It's definitely easier second time around. With dd I feel much better informed to help her choose her subjects. The best advice I can give is to look further ahead and spend some time looking at UCAS looking at what universities are asking for.

Phaedra11 Mon 10-Feb-14 13:14:23

Thank you. Yes it is an 11-16 school and a city state school with a "mixed" catchment area (high percentage of kids with free dinners). I've been happy with the teaching there and the pastoral care has been great. However careers advice has been limited and parents are not involved. University is never going to be an option for many of the kids and I think the school assumes that those for whom it is, will be looked after by the sixth form college. I will take this up with the school and as DS2 is still in Year 8, will have plenty of opportunities to do so.

I don't know if I dare report back on what options DS choses. I'm not sure all my new found knowledge is going to help much at this stage as he's so set in his own mind. Maths is a definite No. I've talked to him. I've told him everything Antimatter's said. I've suggested further chats with his Maths teacher. But No. He is now considering History and/or Classical Civilisation. Don't suppose Classical Civilisation is thought too highly of either but at least it's on the Cambridge A list for Arts subjects.

ChocolateWombat Mon 10-Feb-14 13:20:27

Phaedra, I would print off the Informed Choices document for him to read himself. He will understand it, it is aimed at 5th formers. Perhaps he would like to read this thread too.

At the end of the day it is his (influenced by you) choice. As long as he knows which doors are being kept open and which closed, his choices are fine.

Onlyconnect Mon 10-Feb-14 13:22:41

I teach A level law and every year some of my students go on to study law at uni, including to Russell Group universities.Some of the attitudes to A level law quoted here are out of date. AQA did a survey a couple years ago asking unis about their attitude to A level law and with the exception of LSE and Manchester they are all happy with it- including Oxford and Cambridge colleges. LSE and Manchester would accept it along with 2 facilitating subjects. Having said this, to be on the safe side I would pick only one non- facilitating subject.

TalkinPeace Mon 10-Feb-14 13:47:11

DCs school - along with almost all those in this county is 11-16
THe colleges are very geared up to dealing with it and ensuring that the open evenings give decent info, that the taster days will be a good shakeout etc etc
links between the schools and the colleges are very good
go talk to the college directly

Phaedra11 Mon 10-Feb-14 17:18:12

After much discussion, soul searching and reading of documents, DS has come to the following conclusions.

He is very committed to studying Law. He appreciates that it is a very competitive field and that giving himself a disadvantage at the first hurdle would be a bad idea. Maths A level would be torture to him and he is not confident he could get an A. He has an interest in History and a teacher has told him he's capable of getting an A* at History A level. He knows Law A level isn't essential when applying for a Law degree but wants to take it at A level anyway and thinks the mock trials will be good experience. He does not want to give up Computer studies completely and can't help feeling it might be useful if the whole Law thing falls apart and he's after an office job.

He has therefore decided on the following three a levels: English Literature, History and Law plus a BTEC A level equivalent Computers thing. Not perfect I know but I'm happy as we seem to come to an informed decision and we weren't informed before.

HmmAnOxfordComma Mon 10-Feb-14 17:53:19

That sounds like a fine choice. Two facilitating academic subjects, one vocational/academic and one vocational.

Also keeps his options open if he decides against law.

He's mentioned the mock trials a few times, but he should possibly try and join the college's debating team if they have one as that would be helpful in developing his spoken and argumentative skills too.

Good luck to your ds in getting his GCSEs in the meantime.

ChocolateWombat Mon 10-Feb-14 19:19:57

Great to hear he has chosen. The A Levels sound a good combination.
I would just check that the Unis he is interested in will accept the BTECS and not expect 4 AS levels. It may well be fine, as offers at A2 are for 3 subjects, not 4. It would be unusual for people entering the top Unis to have a BTECS rather than 4th AS, but that doesn't mean it isn't allowable.
If you look at some Uni websites Law sections, they should be able to tell you that.

Best of luck to him now and in the future.

Phaedra11 Mon 10-Feb-14 19:39:00

Thanks Hmm and Wombat. He may also be taking an additional AS level in the first year but all the options for this have names like Critical Thinking and World Development which seem to be discounted by the RG universities so probably not helpful in that respect.

ChocolateWombat Mon 10-Feb-14 20:40:28

TBH, I would avoid those 'extras'. They take up your precious time,mbut count for little. If you have 4 AS or equivalent of, that is enough. NOn RG Unis may be prepared to accept those qualifications, so for some, they work if they do poorly in one of their main ASs.

Phaedra11 Tue 11-Feb-14 19:18:08

Thanks again, ChocolateWombat. Really, you've all been so helpful with this, it is deeply appreciated. I was wondering what was to be gained by those extra ASs when they seemed so respected. It seems like it depends on how high you're aiming.

DS had his interview with the Sixth Form College today and has been offered a place. He gave them his preferred options as above and has been told there is still flexibility to change his mind. After the GCSEs the college is running three days of sample lessons, to help them with their final decisions.

In a surprise development, today DS said that he can see that Maths A level would be incredibly useful and is planning to have a look at some past papers and talk to his Maths teacher about whether an A grade might be a realistic aspiration! Seems like a good idea though I suppose the past papers could scare him off completely!

Phaedra11 Tue 11-Feb-14 19:19:19

Should have been " unrespected"!

ISingSoprano Wed 12-Feb-14 08:17:40

Sounds to me like your ds has his head screwed on - I really hope he does well. Very best of luck to him.

SlowlorisIncognito Wed 12-Feb-14 19:22:49

Very few universities ask for a 4th AS level in their entry requirements, although it is usually expected. However doing a BTEC will compensate for this, and BTECs are now accepted by many top universities. They will tailor their offers to his qualifications if they will accept them.

I think there is a lot of recieved wisdom about A-level choices which to some extent contradicts the reality of university admissions. In an "all other things being equal" situation, those with subjects considered less accademic may be edged out in favour of those with more accademic subjects. However, this will be a later consideration, after the grades (achieved and predicted), PS and reference are considered.

Your DS needs to study subjects that he enjoys and will do well in. There is no point pressuring him into a Maths A-level he doesn't think he will enjoy or do as well in as another subject. If he ends up with a B or a C in maths, instead of an A in another subject, this will limit his choices much more than chosing an A-level which is slightly less well respected.

ChocolateWombat Wed 12-Feb-14 19:44:39

Top universities are inundated with applications. They can be picky about who to give offers to. One of their ways of binning applications is on subjects that have been studied. They DO give offers to candidates with the more challenging facilitating subjects (2 required). They do require certain predictions. Many will not even read the personal statement or reference, because the piles of applications are too big.

They will sift people, first using predicted grades, then subjects, and then, when the pile is still so big, they will look at the personal statement or reference. The only thing you can control at this stage, is having the right subject.
It is right to choose things you enjoy. But you need to be wise to university admissions procedures. See the Sutton Trust INFORMED CHOICES document about admission to RG Unis.

Phaedra11 Wed 12-Feb-14 20:28:50

Thanks ISing. That's lovely of you.

Thanks slow and wombat. I am really glad that wombat and others have passed on the information about university admissions. DS has now given serious consideration to Maths A level but decided against it. Whilst eventually acknowledging it was a possibility, he decided to go with his strengths instead, which for the reasons you raise, slow, is probably a good thing. Studying History and English seems to play to his strengths and they are facilitating subjects, recommended for Law.

A positive thing that has come out of all this is finding out where DS's motivations lie. I had thought he was ambivalent about Law but it turned out he was worried about the expense of the LPC etc more than anything else. Once we reassured him that we would do our best to support him financially, he was full of renewed enthusiasm. We know plenty of people in various stages of legal training (because of my job), so are pretty aware of the cost, possible length of time involved and extremely competitive nature of it, all the way along. Regarding Computer Studies, he now seems okay to keep that as an interest which may or may not lead him somewhere.

Namechanger012345 Wed 12-Feb-14 22:42:35

Law school does not have to be expensive. I know its a long way into the future for him but if he wants to go into law in the city, most of those firms will pay the law school fees plus a maintenance grant.

BeckAndCall Thu 13-Feb-14 06:33:00

On the expense of law school, my DD will be doing the GDL this year and doesn't have sponsorship - she wants to be a barrister ( may change after she does the course - dad is a solicitor so may go in that direction) and I would sincerely hope she would get sponsorship for the second year ( can't remember what the barrister equivalent of the LPC is)

But in the meantime, the fees for the GDL are £10k but there is no student loan available - so that's the bank of mum and dad, then. ( unless anyone knows of any other options?)

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