3 A Levels or 4?

(140 Posts)
grinkle Thu 28-Apr-16 10:01:09

My year 11 dd was going to start 4 A Levels in Sept but has just been told that due to funding cuts, and a teacher leaving, one of her choices will not be available. She's been offered one of her other options instead but doesn't really want to do it.

Year 11 parents - how many A Levels will your dcs be doing from Sept? Will 3 be enough, in these post-AS level days? Enough in terms of getting into a good uni to do a competitive subject?

simbobs Sat 30-Apr-16 18:20:16

HI, saw that you had not had any replies to this. Most schools do 4 at AS and 3 at A2, but in reality a good number of dc drop one AS subject during Y12 because they find the workload too heavy. No unis expect 4 A levels. It is much better to get 3 good ones than spread yourself more thinly just to comply with the norm. She should just focus on what she really wants to do.

littledrummergirl Sat 30-Apr-16 18:33:47

Ds1 is doing four. His school also offer further maths as a fifth and the option of something that's a bit more personal for the dc (can't remember what it's called atm).
Ds1 has declined further maths but may do the additional bit.
His A levels are now linear so no AS.

Coconutty Sat 30-Apr-16 18:35:57

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

OhYouBadBadKitten Sat 30-Apr-16 19:36:45

Only 3 are allowed at dds 6th form, with an AS in Year 12 and an EPQ in Year 13.

raspberryrippleicecream Sat 30-Apr-16 19:39:44

DD is still doing 4, with the option of FM as well, (which she wont do).

boys3 Sat 30-Apr-16 19:51:10

DS2 taking 3 come September. GS 6th form . Sounds like FM will be a standard 4th for those taking Maths. Talking to one the the teachers who taught DS1 at same school reckoning was that the new A levels, at least for his subject, have / will have 20% / 25% more content.

I have mixed feelings about the demise of AS. The 4 to 3 approach did provide a margin for error on choice. Plus those elite Unis did like the academic trajectory from GCSE that AS results could demonstrate.

I'm always a bit unclear as to why people think the elite Unis, never mind just the good ones, are going to expect at least 4 A levels. Stealth boast alert! - DS1 at Cambridge, they are clear that standard offers will be based on 3 still. He only did 3, although along with most of his year he also did General Studies as a turn up for the exams 4th , very few Uni's counted them within offers though. His UCAS tariff points - quoted on all the subject league tables - was therefore very high, although arguably artificially so. I'm not convinced an A* i General Studies is remotely equivalent to an A* in, say, Further Maths. Yet both were worth the same 140 UCAS pts.

The next few years, as the full effect of the end of AS and revamped A level courses becomes clearer, will be interesting hmm

littledrummergirl Sat 30-Apr-16 20:15:21

EPQ. That's the extra thing I was paying attention honestly grin

OhYouBadBadKitten Sat 30-Apr-16 20:25:28


raspberryrippleicecream Sat 30-Apr-16 21:48:50

For DD, being able to choose 4 has meant she has been able to choose something she likes but isn't confident she will be OK with at A level. She can still drop a subject.

School does the walk up GS too. DS1 refused to do it as a 6th AS, he had 2 exams already that day and wanted to concentrate on them.

Incidentally DS1 is doing 4 A2 inc FM and all his offers, are based on 3. There are other reasons he is doing 4.

TaIkinPeace Sat 30-Apr-16 22:27:59

Its an absolute shit storm
my kids are at / will go to a humungous 6th form college with the resources to cover all permutations and THEY are confused
I find it horrifying the mess that smaller 6th have to cope with

pointythings Sat 30-Apr-16 23:01:20

DD1's school offers 4 to the top of the top set, not to everyone.

She's only in Yr10 at the moment but is doing very well and would like to explore the possibilities of doing a 4th A-level if her GCSEs are good enough.

I think it's good the flexibility can be offered to really stretch very able pupils, especially if there is the option of dropping one after a year if it's proving too much.

teta Sat 30-Apr-16 23:04:39

My DD in year 12 is currently doing three plus an EPQ and a Crest award.Her independent school have advised 3 for everyone apart from Oxbridge candidates.DD wants to do Vet. science and all offers are based on 3 plus/minus a EPQ.She has checked this with the relevant Vet. Schools. She does need to get A/A* in these 3 and the A levels are meant to be harder this year.

pratiaalba Sat 30-Apr-16 23:09:18

If you're only allowed to take three, but you really hate one, what can you do? I dropped the one I hated most after the first year. If I'd had to continue it, tbh I'd have left.

grinkle Sat 30-Apr-16 23:59:49

Thanks simbobs for getting the discussion started!

Glad to hear that dd will not be the only one doing just 3. There really are no other subjects she's interested in, so sticking with 3 makes sense now her 4th option is no longer possible.

The EPQ sounds interesting. Might ask about that.

TaIkinPeace Sun 01-May-16 16:28:32

DD did 5 at AS and then 3 at A2 plus an EPQ
the brightest kids at the college did 7 AS and 5 A2
the norm is 4 and 3

DS will be doing 4 subjects when he starts in September and then dropping one for the 2nd year
we think

but as the whole thing is unclear at the moment its really scary

the Universities are going to have to change the whole way they do admissions
or bring in loads of extra exams - which will entrench advantage even more than it is already

such a retrograde step and so badly thought out without empirical support.

hayita Sun 01-May-16 16:50:49

the Universities are going to have to change the whole way they do admissions

No, they're not. Most university courses make offers to those who have predicted grades in the correct range. The minority of courses which are highly selective (medicine, top universities) already use academic record/predictions as a filter and then select primarily by interview and aptitude tests.

A relatively small fraction of courses currently use AS level results significantly in their selection procedures. I suspect that these will mostly move to looking at GCSE results instead of AS (in combination with predictions, school reference, personal statement etc), as they would have done until the 90s. For most students looking at AS v GCSE gives in any case roughly the same picture.

I'm not in favour of dropping AS, and not in favour of the speed of the changes (without proper trials) but I don't think it will make that much difference to university admissions. With a few exceptions - I agree that Cambridge adding entrance tests may put students off and I'm against it. (Oxford of course already has admissions tests for many subjects.)

TaIkinPeace Sun 01-May-16 17:01:55

Interviews and aptitude tests are discriminatory - they cut out thousands of kids who do not go to schools that are geared up to them
the good thing about using AS was that it was a level playing field

tests do not put kids off, they cut kids out completely

GCSE results based offers are a retrograde step
as GCSEs are basically rote learning nowadays and are taken in subjects that kids hate as well as those they want to continue

predicted grades are another problem as selective schools predict high so get their pupils offers to top courses
and lower achieving schools predict low so cut their kids out of opportunities
(see Sutton Trust reseaech on the subject)

Ricardian Sun 01-May-16 17:10:36

* selective schools predict high*

The students still have to get the grades

lower achieving schools predict low

Which is what adjustment is for.

TaIkinPeace Sun 01-May-16 17:23:54

indeed but the Sutton Trust found that with the low predictions kids could not even apply for the top courses or be on the radar of the top unis

and the over predicted kids often get bumped into courses on clearing that other better qualified kids should really have been on

MedSchoolRat Sun 01-May-16 17:40:32

Of course exams & interviews & aptitude tests are discriminatory... the point of interviews & aptitude tests is to to take all the kids over a certain academic threshold & score their other skills relevant to the course.

Maybe we could go for a random allocation system, no matter how well or badly you did in school you just get a job randomly allocated to you: binperson or doctor. What would the advantage of that system be?

I heard that anybody can get onto any university 1st yr course in the Netherlands. But then students have to prove themselves in exams or they're kicked out. I bet they end up with fairly privileged-background kids succeeding like the UK has.

I don't think Universities can afford to impose extra exams.

RhodaBull Sun 01-May-16 17:42:35

Ds is doing four A Levels in humanities subjects. He says it is not too arduous. He started four with the intention of dropping one but enjoys them all. He also says that atm (obviously now changed) loads of people are retaking modules in U6 so are in effect doing 4 A Levels in terms of number of exams.

My bugbear is that it is a shame that so many drop the "difficult" A Level at the end of the first year for fear of not getting a top grade. So droves of kids at ds's sixth form college start a language with enthusiasm, but drop it even if they are enjoying it because it is easier to do well in other subjects. Back in my day - yada yada - there was no "I must get an A (make that an A* for GCSE) or I'm doomed" worry.

jigglebum Sun 01-May-16 17:43:46

I think most will be going for 3 A levels at the schools I know and many schools not even offering ASs. With the new specs it is actually quite difficult to teach AS alongside A level in some subjects so unless you are offering separate AS classes (which smaller 6th forms will not do) it is easier not to offer. Some ASs are not offering the first exam till 2018 either - ie it is over 2 years so students wont be able to drop from 4 to 3 in year 13. I actually feel rather sorry for the new intake for sep 2016. Plenty of specs still not accredited, textbooks not finalised or available, content looks huge. I am a Head of Dept and have been unable to finalise my spec for September yet due to all the aforementioned problems.

TaIkinPeace Sun 01-May-16 17:51:33

Of course exams & interviews & aptitude tests are discriminatory... the point of interviews & aptitude tests is to to take all the kids over a certain academic threshold & score their other skills relevant to the course.
You know full well that academic discrimination is not what I'm talking about.
Its social discrimination.
Which is wrong.

Ricardian Sun 01-May-16 18:19:59

You know full well that academic discrimination is not what I'm talking about.

Its social discrimination.

I realise you think you're the only person who had thought about this, but strangely, a lot of us have, over many years.

Assume, and I'm not sure I think this is true, but arguendo, that there is some reified general intelligence that (a) predicts academic ability and (b) can be directly measured. This is the "let's pretend Cyril Burt wasn't a lying charlatan" position. That would mean that we could compare on this scale, which we may as well call g, two eighteen year olds, one of whom had been educated at Eton, the other of whom had been raised by wolves in the manner of Romulus and Remus. Suppose we determine that on our measure of intelligence, the latter is "more intelligent". How much more "intelligent" would they need to be in order to have a better chance of success in an MBChB programme than the former?

My answer is "they're disproportionate likely to fail, given realistic assumptions". Because the best predictor of success in exams is success in exams, and the idea that universities can fix in 66 weeks of teaching (in the case of the typical 3 year level 6 qualification) a deficit which has occurred over the 14 preceding years is farcical. Or, more crucially, can fix in the 22 weeks of the first year those self-same 14 years, such that the student passes the first year exams. BTECs provide Level 3 qualifications for people who can't take exams, but when they arrive in an environment where passing exams is the sine qua non of progression, they fail.

Universities cannot provide a crash course in the cultural capital, drawn in the widest sense, that people who have already succeeded in education have. Apart from anything else, universities aren't staffed by trained teachers and the methods of teaching and assessment are aimed clearly and centrally at people who have a track record of being taught, and arrive with the associated soft and hard skills. Your local redbrick's engineering department doesn't ask for A Level Maths and A Level Physics at Grade A just as a selection criterion, a quest for something correlated with g, they ask for them because on day 1 of the course you will need to use the skills and knowledge, and on day 2 you will have to learn more, building on them.

So what do you want us to do? Lower the entry requirements? Lower achieved entry grades are the single best predictor of failure, which is why Oxford and Cambridge have the lowest non-completion rates, by far. Yes, I'm aware it isn't that simple, because those grades are in turn proxies for other thing; that's rather my point, I think.

The solution that's creeping towards reality is foundation years, and they are now integrated for funding (you can get SLC funded as they are notionally Level 6 courses) and for progression (if you do a foundation year, you only need to progress into the first year, rather than gain competitive admission, so the bar is much lower).

But I suggest that before we all stand on the barricades with a chorus of "Can you hear the people sing?" building in your chest that you look at the completion rates both of foundation years, and (agreed, we only have one cohort to go on) degrees undertaken by foundation year students. Neither looks great, I'm afraid, and the people gaining for foundation years are often people with good A Levels in subjects X, Y and Z who want to do a degree which requires X', Y', Z'. In other news, those 60% of OU humanities students who already have a degree in something else do rather better than the remainder of the cohort who don't.

What else do you want us to do? Lower first year progression requirements as if that is even possible? Reduce degree content? What?

Making universities responsible for the ills of the education system, and society more widely, is confusing the tail with the dog. Yes, it's appalling that some children receive sub-standard education in schools (although I'd take some convincing that's entirely the schools' fault) and it's tragic that some children are very badly supported by their parents. But claiming that we can fix this, either by messing about with admission processes or by messing about with admission criteria, is just magical thinking. It's hard. A lot of us in universities are very keen to fix it, and don't spend all day raining empty sherry bottles down on the heads of the poor. If we had a solution, we'd implement it.

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