ds's A Level choices drama rumbles on... help!

(108 Posts)
lainiekazan Wed 04-Dec-13 10:04:03

The form has to be in on Friday and he can't decide.

He is definitely doing Eng Lit and History. Then he hasn't a clue. The runners are Music, Latin and Philosophy.

He is thinking of putting down all 5 but I think he'll have a nervous breakdown (or I will) if he starts off doing that many. He's worried that Music does not look good enough, he would find it difficult to achieve as highly in Latin as students at a public/private school, and that Philosophy would be one essay subject too many and, again, might not look that impressive.

Any opinions?

janeyjampot Wed 04-Dec-13 10:10:11

We're making similar choices at the moment. One thing I have found helpful is to think about the next stage and look at what is needed there. Does your DS know what he wants to do next?

From a completely objective point of view, the Russell Group publish this guide: russellgroup.org/InformedChoices-latest.pdf which lists certain 'facilitating' subjects which are those that give the most options for university entrance. According to that list, Latin would be the best option, but I think it would be worth looking at past results to check that students have managed to achieve top grades in the past so that you can at least have some idea about whether this is achievable in the school he attends.

TeenAndTween Wed 04-Dec-13 10:14:16

Set aside for the moment 'looking impressive'.
- what is he good at (academic and hobbies)
- is he inspired by the courses
- what might he be considering doing after A level
- what GCSE results is he expecting
- what is his work ethic like

Out of those remaining 3, if he does the ones he is interested in, provided he is also capable then wouldn't that be the best thing? Then he drops one going into the second year. As long as he keep the 'heavier' English Lit and History, the impression I get is that the 3rd doens't matter quite so much.

Or put all 5 down then drop one on 1st September?

(NB daughter only in y10 so only just starting to explore this myself)

ATailOfTwoKitties Wed 04-Dec-13 10:14:32

Why is he worried that music 'doesn't look good'? I suspect it's very difficult indeed!

NomDeClavier Wed 04-Dec-13 10:19:18

Music is bloody hard. Harder than geography and I think viewed more favourably than philosophy unless he wants to do philosophy or law.

Latin looks most impressive but where is he realistically likely to achieve highest?

NomDeClavier Wed 04-Dec-13 10:20:26

Didn't finish!

I would put music and Latin and decide after the first year which to drop.

MuppetsChristmasCorral Wed 04-Dec-13 10:26:16

I did 5 A-levels and it is possible, but it meant I had to sacrifice the odd evening out with friends etc. I didn't mind much as I am a glutton for punishment really loved what I was doing, but if DS is a social butterfly it might not be the best.

My sister did three full A-levels and two AS's over the two years. She did one as an extra in her first year and one the next. Could that be an option if he's desperate for all the subjects?

Mignonette Wed 04-Dec-13 10:29:38

What does he enjoy most? He should do that. Music is very hard but also brings great pleasure too.

I love philosophy but it is verbose!

lainiekazan Wed 04-Dec-13 10:29:58

Ds certainly isn't a social butterfly but he is an afficionado of the XBox...

The trouble is he doesn't love any of the three he's considering. What would be the least work/easiest?!

titchy Wed 04-Dec-13 10:31:57

Eng Lit and History are good heavyweight subjects. The other three are also very well-regarded and would be very acceptable to Oxbridge, so he doesn't need to worry about looking impressive - any combination will look impressive!

Unless he is intending to do Latin or a specific period of History where Latin would be useful, dropping Latin would do no harm. Dropping Music would be fine, even if he was intending to do a Music degree (as long as he had the practical requirements) and dropping Philosophy wouldn't rule out Philosophy degree.

So basically dropping any of those will do no harm to his chances of a university place, and any combination will look impressive. So he shoudl make his choice based on what he enjoys!

superlambanana Wed 04-Dec-13 10:40:25

I disagree that dropping music wouldn't matter if he wants to do it as a degree - been there, done that, lots of universities wouldn't even look at my application without it.

I'd say to put down the one he enjoys most. If I were him I'd put two or three of them down and make his final decision in the first few weeks of term - there's always some movement and schools are usually happy with movement up to about the third week.

lalsy Wed 04-Dec-13 11:00:08

I agree that it doesn't matter especially if he is likely to carry on with Eng Lit and History to A2. My dd did four of these (not music) at AS and then dropped history and has just done UCAS (and is getting offers). Eng lit and History are fine for facilitating subjects - you don't need three (the RG guide has more info on this). Almost no courses need Latin (my dd has managed to find a very obscure one but there would have been plenty of options without), as many schools do not offer it; the same may well be true of philosophy - you can check this on the UCAS website by searching for degree courses he might want to do and seeing what the essential and preferred A levels are.

I would ask the school for recent results in all three subjects - they are all likely to be small and therefore potentially vulnerable to staff changes etc so look for a good, stable record. And then all things being equal, he should go for the one he enjoys most and is likely to do best in. My dd found the four essay subjects (the Latin lit is effectively essay based) at AS very, very hard work. I gather philosophy is perfectly well regarded as a "hard" subject - it is just not essential for specific degrees, and I suspect the same is true of music. None of these are easy options - I think my dd would say Latin is more work than philosophy but she is keener on it. History was shedloads of work at AS.

ATailOfTwoKitties Wed 04-Dec-13 11:30:34

Depends on the Latin syllabus, surely?

I did A-level Latin back in the day, and there were very few essays to write that I remember (hell of a lot of unseen translations of Agricola's weird ideas of British geography/Aeneas and Dido breathing heavily in caves/watery reflections gleaming on the oiled skins of beautiful youths, though, that sort of thing).

lalsy Wed 04-Dec-13 11:33:39

Which board does Latin A level and doesn't have essay style answers needed?

friday16 Wed 04-Dec-13 12:15:12

Dropping Music would be fine, even if he was intending to do a Music degree (as long as he had the practical requirements)


Q2 I’m a UK citizen and want to study Music at Oxford, but I don’t have A2 Music. I do have ABRSM Grade 8 Theory. Can I still apply?
A2 Although ABRSM Grade 8 Theory is helpful in providing useful theoretical background to the course, it is not a substitute for A2 Music at Grade A.

There are places that don't agree, and will accept Grade 8 theory as an alternative to A Level music. However, (a) grade 8 theory is not a walk in the park and (b) you will need to explain why you didn't do A2. "My school didn't offer it" is OK. "I didn't fancy it much" might undermine your claims to want to do a music degree.

titchy Wed 04-Dec-13 12:33:03

Probably true Friday - but presumably if OP's ds was seriously thinking about a music degree he wouldn't be wondering whether or not to do music!

Theas18 Wed 04-Dec-13 12:44:41

Do the music to A2 if there is even a hint you may want to take it further (apart from anything, if you ARE in that position, it will be a subject you are strong in and will get a good grade!).

hench Wed 04-Dec-13 12:56:59

any combination would be fine, so put all on the form and let him go to all lessons for a week (assuming school can timetable them all - if not, the choice may be made for him). He can then drop the one he likes least after seeing what the teachers, class groups and subjects are really like.

hench Wed 04-Dec-13 13:03:32

All three are minority choices, so if there is a particularly poor takeup for any the school may not run them. There's lots of financial pressure at the moment for sixth forms not to run small classes, and it may be wise to seek assurance from the school that they will offer the A2 courses next year definitely too, whether or not everyone deides to continue the subject for two years.

lainiekazan Wed 04-Dec-13 14:07:26

Thanks. He is Grade 8 piano but does not want to be a musician/do music degree - it's a hobby.

I think he is going to put all 5 and see what the college says. Apparently quite a few students do Philosophy, very few do Latin.

Beastofburden Wed 04-Dec-13 14:17:05

Where does he want to go to University? What does he want to study?

In your shoes I would say the priority is to get at least AAB including English and history. That would be good enough for most places.

Or, if you are looking at a very competitive University, you need to be looking for A*AA.

Even for Oxbridge, as long as he has English and History and is going to get A in both, the third subject isn't terribly important as long as he gets an A. Philosophy has an OK reputation especially if he is looking at something like law at Uni. Latin has no reputation either way unless you are doing classics, because its not offered in many places. Music is seen as strong evidence of performing and music skill, so relevant if you want a music degree, but not relevant if you are doing something else. A modern language would be better than any of these, to be honest, but only if he could get an A.

So if he can get AAb or A*AA depending on his ambition doing English, history and philosophy then that would not be a bad choice.

Absolutely pointless doing five. Nobody wants five A levels in the humanities and social sciences (its different in science where maths, further maths and three sciences is the dream package) and if he dilutes his effort and doesn't get five A*s then he has wasted his time.

lainiekazan Wed 04-Dec-13 14:33:24

He is looking to do as well as he can. It's a shame, really, that one has to play the A*/As game, and not do a broader range of subjects that might include one that one does not excel in, but that's another thread.

oscarwilde Wed 04-Dec-13 14:51:17

I don't wish to sound incredibly rude but what use is Latin if you are only going to study 4/5 subjects and none of them are another modern language? It's nice to study something you enjoy but at what point in the education system do you focus on the longer term benefit?

It's a genuine question. I'm sitting here racking my brains but Law and Medicine are the only professions I can think of where it might be of use and Med is obviously (given the rest of the subject choices) not in question.

Background: Educationally I didn't go to school in UK and at home subject choice was heavily biased towards "use". Latin would be deemed as a luxury choice, only offered by a tiny number of schools, and people study 7-9 subjects at A level so doing a minority course just for interest sake is somewhat more acceptable.

Feel free to tell me I am talking crap and an A* in Latin will be of use after school. smile

Beastofburden Wed 04-Dec-13 14:57:44

lainie it sounds as if none of them really appeal. You could go one of three ways:

Do music as it will be relatively easy for him, so he can cash in his As in the other two subjects by doing not much work for music. i did that back in 1980- i took English, French, German and two Music A levels, Theoretical Music and Practical Music. The music ones were freebies for me and I got five A grades. It's a high risk subject though for not getting an A*, be warned. Very unpredictable.

Do a modern language which will be far more useful in getting work and competitive in University entrance than any of the three he is looking at.

Do either of philosophy or Latin, whichever you think is most reliably taught and is the least work.

If there is any chance of doing a modern language and getting a decent grade then I would do that.

lainiekazan Wed 04-Dec-13 14:58:03

Well, most things are pretty useless, aren't they? Might as well strip things right back and everyone only do A Level Survival Studies (in which ds could guarantee a U grade).

Beastofburden Wed 04-Dec-13 14:59:23

Oscar, the law went over from Latin to English many years ago, it wouldn't be any use now.

titchy Wed 04-Dec-13 15:07:49

He could do a broader range if he went down the IB route of course.

oscarwilde Wed 04-Dec-13 15:08:12

I work with lawyers frequently. They are fond of trotting out latin phrases grin

If it's just for the grades, then definitely the subject most likely to do well in/appeal to the universities. Not much to choose between Phil and Latin imo. From the totally ignorant (of the level of effort required) standpoint of an employer they both have more credibility than media studies but no-where near that of an A* in Physics for example. Totally unfair I suspect but that's how the market works.

lljkk Wed 04-Dec-13 19:40:36

does he have any idea what he wants to do after A-levels?

lainiekazan Wed 04-Dec-13 20:14:33

No idea at all! He is the youngest in the year and only recently was waved to the front of the dinner queue having been mistaken for a year 7...

lljkk Wed 04-Dec-13 20:24:09

At least he's got the GCSE grades to be able to go, I suppose. Rest really has to be up to him.

LeBearPolar Wed 04-Dec-13 20:30:39

I teach a number of pupils who do the English/History/Philosophy combo. Philosophy is hard unless you have a particular type of brain! So I have seen pupils get AAD at AS Level with that combination of subjects.

lainiekazan Thu 05-Dec-13 09:31:04

What type of brain would that be, LeBearPolar? Better check ds has the right sort in advance!

Beastofburden Thu 05-Dec-13 10:21:50

Lainie, if he wants to keep his options as open as possible, then:

Humanities- English, history, modern languages if possible, if not, any of those three, whichever will get him the best grade for all three.

Social sciences- English, history, maths if possible, if not, philosophy.

Good luck!

LeBearPolar Thu 05-Dec-13 12:53:43

I wish I knew! I still remember being gently told at degree level that I shouldn't choose a Philosophy based module as one of my third year options as I wouldn't cope with it. I find it difficult to deal in abstract ideas, if that helps! Maybe get him to read some bits of the philosophers they study at A Level in advance to see what he thinks of them and the ideas they're exploring?

lainiekazan Thu 05-Dec-13 12:55:47

Good idea. We looked at the dept at sixth form college and I think he liked the idea of a bit of waffle. Although the trouble with waffle is it is not an exact science!

Isthiscorrect Thu 05-Dec-13 14:10:20

DS is in yr 13 studying history philosophy gov & pol and eco. Philosophy is hard although DS did get very very high UMS for AS ;-) But it is by no means an easy option, essay heavy, a lot of extra reading, he loves it but it is a small class and a few dropped out as they found it too hard. Cant comment on either music or Latin. He has offers from a number of RG unis, still waiting to hear about the others.

superlambanana Thu 05-Dec-13 15:24:16

Beastofburden have you seen an A level Music syllabus recently?! Hardly a 'freebie'!!

Beastofburden Thu 05-Dec-13 15:28:56

Super, for me it was, as I had been at music college from the age of 12 and by 15 I had grade 8 in theory and three different instruments. I wasn't suggesting it would be a freebie for everyone.

And yes, I did double A level and it was actually a lot more difficult than it is today, sorry.

NomDeClavier Thu 05-Dec-13 19:07:45

I didn't find that practical or theory G8s helped with the analysis bit. Performance was fine, Bach chorales a piece of cake, composition not too dusty but the music history/analysis meant it wasn't a freebie. Nor did College help much.

I am 20 years younger than you I reckon wink and I don't think the syllabus has changed in between significantly although it will always depend on the board.

HanneHolm Thu 05-Dec-13 19:09:41

i have just been with some year 12 students and the ones who are happy are those who did what they find interesting not what they thought they should do

HanneHolm Thu 05-Dec-13 19:10:43

and tbh if each pupil brings 4.5k in income then they let them do what they like

the idea that there is a CHRISTMAS deadline is, frankly , ludicrous.

jsut shove any thing down then change when you get results

HanneHolm Thu 05-Dec-13 19:10:56

this school isnt in Hampshire , is it?

Beastofburden Thu 05-Dec-13 20:42:21

Nom, the thing is, I did the old double music A levels which I don't think they still offer- so of my 5 A levels, two were music: Practical Music and Theoretical Music. Practical Music a level had papers ln the performance of your main instrument. so, for instance, we had to plan a recital and why we had chosen that programme, and write on how our instrument had changed physically over the years and what that meant for performance. All of that was dead easy. Plus we had to write a Bach chorale, a Schubert song, a Haydn quartet, etc etc all of which was just a matter of remembering one you knew and fiddling with it a bit. and the aural dictation test was also easy if you had spent long enough performing. Then there was the Big White Book which was about 30 excerpts, and in the exam you got three or four and had to compare them. Again, piece of piss because you were actually given a new copy of the white book in the exam, so no need to memorise the music. Analysis was not hard for me having spent so long at quite a hardcore college.

True, I did need to do a bit of work on my set works and music history, in the Theoretical Music a level, but even then i knew quite a lot of music history, as in, i had performed most of the famous pieces anyway by then. it was still way less work than I needed to do on my other A levels. And it was almost exactly the same thing- learn your set works and write essays analysing them- the works were in English, French, German or Music but the task was exactly the same.

But the question is, will it be relatively easy and stress free for the OPs DC, and help him cash in three grade As ? Only she knows that, but there's a good chance it will be.

superlambanana Thu 05-Dec-13 20:52:07

Ah I can see how it was easy for you beast if you'd been at music college that long already. Sorry, it sounded like you thought the whole thing was a piece of cake for everyone!

OP he should just do why he enjoys most. I did English lit because I thought I needed it for the spread of subjects. I absolutely hated it and didn't do nearly as well as I could have done in a subject I loved.

Beastofburden Thu 05-Dec-13 20:56:05

Yes, I went when I was 12 and left at 15 to do my O levels.

I actually think that music a level is really only doable by kids that have music as their big hobby. I don't think you can learn it all in two years like maths or history. It's a funny one.

I get the Impression from the OP that the kid doesn't actually want to do any of the three subjects all that much. In which case, if she can't persuade him to change to a modern language, which he might also hate but would be more competitive and useful, I would say be cynical, do the one that is least work for him and aim for those three A grades.

noideawhy Fri 06-Dec-13 01:18:54

how much did he enjoy music in his gcse class so far? that should be good indication. Did he like the look of pieces in a level board recommendations? Does he like the composition part?

hard to tell how easy philosophy would be for him
did he do any any reading

during our recent 6th form visit philosophy teacher suggested the following books to understand what the subject is about:

Robinson, Dave "Introducing Descartes"

Blackburn, Simon "Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy"

Action Philosophers!: The Lives and Thoughts of History's A-List Brain Trust: The More-Than-Complete Edition

I can only assume he loves essay writing as this would be his third essay writing subject.

MiniMonty Fri 06-Dec-13 02:11:21

Music is NOT an easy A level; - it's a beast and unless you DS is well inspired (or gifted) a B/C is the best to hope for.
Philosophy is not a required A level for ANY UNIVERSITY COURSE (even including philosophy) and most universities will simply discount it at A level. You can't sensibly study philosophy between 16 and 18. It's a nonsense.

What he "enjoys" is really not the point... What is about is to set him up to hopefully achieve a chance of a fulfilling and successful life - this is the point and I'm not really sure if it should be up to him what he studies at A level - it should be UP TO YOU !

Given the advertised mix of Eng lit, Music, philosophy, Latin and History it sounds very much like you are breeding an art critic. That famously well paid job... NOT.

Surely he's doing Maths at GCSE, Surely he's doing some sciences - knock some sense into the boy and talk about the real world...

Music, philosophy and Latin - hmmmm... three years of uni studying grooviness (plus marijuana, wine women and song), plus a fantasy of making a living after uni (when he will move back in with you) and then stack shelves (while living with you) then marry a girl who stacks shelves.

Music, Latin and Philosophy - oh please - unless you are billionaires, take this a bit more seriously...

lalsy Fri 06-Dec-13 07:43:50

MiniMonty - universities do not "discount" philosophy A level. My dd is applying with it as one of three A2s, and is receiving offers including philosophy. We discussed at a couple of university open days whether to drop it or history after AS for the course she wanted, and they were both seen as useful but not essential for her course. Many arts and humanities courses only have one, or sometimes no, required A levels - that does not mean the ones that are not specified are discounted. If you look at the UCAS site, there are very few courses where A levels that are not widely available are required, rightly so.

OP, if the university aspect matters to your ds, do check the UCAS website directly. You can search on any course, it will list all the institutions that provide it, and you can check the requirements directly - do not believe anything else!. You can also check on university websites. From our recent research, agree with those that say any of his three will be fine, and plenty of doors are opened by Eng Lit and History if he doesn't like MFL - the main thing will be to get good grades and enjoy the course.

friday16 Fri 06-Dec-13 07:46:10

I'm not really sure if it should be up to him what he studies at A level - it should be UP TO YOU

Yeah, that'll end well.

titchy Fri 06-Dec-13 07:58:32

As will a kid with clear strengths and interest in essay subjects switching to maths and science grin Are you living in the 1950's mini?

Beastofburden Fri 06-Dec-13 08:01:14

I think this is a very interesting question.

The OP has given her view up thread-it's a shame to have to play the A* game, education ought to be about wider cultural things. I can absolutely see that, when they are younger, but for me, it ends at GCSE.

I guess from my perspective, I see it as more important that they can, at age 21, leave Uni and then use their creativity to think, what shall I do with my life, where shall I go? And sadly, too often what we see is graduates who can't make any such choices, because they have done uncompetitive subjects for A level and degree, and they are stuck.

I see a bigger picture perhaps, as I work in a university myself and have seen generations of students come and go, plus my own children and their friends are now early 20s.

My advice would be unwelcome, I think, to the kid in question. I think he has two options:

He takes essentially two A levels- English and history- plus a third placefiller. Of the three subjects he has in mind, any would do really, as long as he is confident of getting straight As in all three. So , make a pragmatic choice of the best taught and easiest subject, and for goodness sake don't do them all.

Or he can upgrade and do English and History, plus a modern language, if he wants a humanities degree, or plus maths, if he wants social sciences, or plus both, if he doesn't know what he wants. That would take him much further, and would be my advice, but it will also be more work and more risk.

In the end, it's all about delayed gratification. I enjoyed my music A levels- but I did three other competitive subjects as well. Music was just for fun. And it was the other three that got me my Uni place; and it was qualifying after Uni as an accountant that got me my job, combined with the languages. Music has stayed a much loved hobby.

Beastofburden Fri 06-Dec-13 08:43:54

And since the autumn statement yesterday, the goalposts have shifted again. It used to be the case that AAB was especially valuable to all Unis apart from Oxbridge, because those students were not controlled - you could recruit as many as you want with no penalty (normally you get fined if you take too many, as the government is worried about the cost of the student loan book).

But yesterday they said they will abolish all student number controls from the year after next- when this kid will be going. So AAB is nothing special now compared with ABB, and I think Unis will go back to looking for AAA where they can recruit.

ATailOfTwoKitties Fri 06-Dec-13 09:39:49

Lainie, just be bloody thankful that yours isn't adamant he's going to do drama studies, theatre studies and, ooh, let's see, media studies.

God I'd give my right arm for a bit of music, Latin or English in that lot.

And as for the assumption that it's not worth taking any subject that might drop below an A... You do know that around 10 to 20%, maybe 30%, typically get an A or above in each subject? Are all of the others wasting their time?

friday16 Fri 06-Dec-13 09:44:23

I think Unis will go back to looking for AAA where they can recruit.

There are roughly 12% fewer current 11 year olds than there are current 18 year olds. That is true over most of the EU. That continues a 19% drop in the number of 18 year olds over the past six years.

Source, ONS

There are 668200 11 year olds (born 2001-2), 754100 18 year olds (born 1994-5) and there are 927600 25 year olds (born 1987-8). That's a 28% drop for the cohort likely to go to university at 18 from 2006 to 2020. The current cohort applying at the moment is 19% smaller than the peak six years ago. This is why talk about small falls in application rates being somehow to do with student funding is such wild nonsense: anything which doesn't involve a 20% drop in numbers is a real increase in participation.

If university take-up remains constant as a proportion of the population, undergraduate courses reliant on home students (ie most of them, and in the humanities all of them) will experience a near-30% drop in potential students over the period 2006 to 2020. In fact there has been a swing towards STEM, so the humanities have two problems to face: fewer potential students, and they're less likely to be wanting to do arts and humanities anyway. Increasing participation involves lowering entry requirements, because there simply isn't a pool of people with AAB currently sat around as Neets.

Major courses at RG universities went into large scale clearing last year, for the first time in a generation, and almost all of the RG universities did for at least one course (there are exceptions you can count on one hand, all of them massive destinations for overseas engineering students who can be used to balance the books). Most announced that they would be in clearing before results day. At least one RG university issued an edict to accept all students who had been issued firm offers, irrespective of achieved A Levels. Adjustment, which is a sort of Waitrose clearing, has become a huge thing so that RG universities can say "we aren't in clearing --but we still desperately need some more students, phone us anyway--".

At least three RG universities massively undershot in 2012 and 2013, and several departments in STEM subjects at those universities were told to recruit pretty well anyone with a pulse, because they had least had applicants, in order to bolster overall university numbers. You can now get onto top 10 courses which in the prospectus are AAA with, in some circumstances, BBC. One RG university is routinely offering de facto unconditional offers in shortage subjects, subject to accepting them as a firm offer. They won't let you hold an unconditional as an insurance while holding your Oxbridge offer as firm; it remains to be seen how long UCAS will tolerate this bending of the rules. I suspect that in this cycle this procedure will become more common at other universities once they cotton on.

There are always trendy courses of the moment at trendy universities of the moment, there's always pressure on Oxbridge and as medicine is gated by the NHS's willingness to fund FT1 places the numbers are artificially constrained. So some individual courses may be able to keep offers high. But the idea that there will be any sort of widespread increase in offers in the current and next round (I have a child in the current round, and know what offers look like compared to last year) is pretty implausible. There simply aren't the qualified applicants.

ATailOfTwoKitties Fri 06-Dec-13 09:49:47

Sorry, I should have been clear that Performance Studies with More Studies On Top is precisely my son's plan for the next two years.

oscarwilde Fri 06-Dec-13 11:10:32

Someone has to work in media ATailof grin I suppose the main question is does he have any talent in that area or a definite goal in mind; or does he just watch a bit too much Glee/Xfactor smile

Beastofburden Fri 06-Dec-13 11:10:54

But the proportion of overseas undergraduates is rising. So relying on the UK demographic is not necessarily a good idea. The unconditional thing was a one off strategy by one Uni and it is aimed at getting high performing candidates who want a good insurance offer. In fact, from memory, to qualify, you had to be predicted three A grades.

I don't think that everyone has to get three A grades. Upthread the OP didn't specify where he was aiming, just he wants to do the best he can. But outside the three a grade territory, subject choice matters even more.

The thing is, the relevance of A levels doesn't end when you get that Uni offer. Employers look at a level subject choices too. That was one of the things I was trying to say- many graduates end up in a pickle because they didn't look beyond getting in to Uni when they were in sixth form.

Employers value maths and modern languages. They won't be as interested in music, philosophy or Latin except for certain niche jobs, so at the very least, he ought to have a careful think, especially as he doesn't actually want to do any of them all that much. If he is equally not fussed about doing a modern language, and he would get the same grade, he ought to think about that.

friday16 Fri 06-Dec-13 12:19:46

But the proportion of overseas undergraduates is rising.

Hardly relevant for the typical humanities department, though. EU doesn't help, because EU demographics are more down-slanted than ours, and there's hardly a bull market in Chinese students coming to the UK to study history.

mummytime Fri 06-Dec-13 12:48:32

Universities like overseas students because they pay more (true overseas not EU). However the government will still pressurise them to take numbers of UK students.

Beastofburden I might agree with your position up thread except I know increasing numbers of young people who are completing University and then in their 20s totally retraining as they discover the only thing they really want to do is for example be a graphic designer.

I still encourage my DC to do what they are passionate about. Most people can't get A* at A'level never mind a great degree in something they are not really interested in.

Beastofburden Fri 06-Dec-13 13:13:22

This was advice to a specific kid, though, who doesn't really want to do any of his three choices of A level. And if he is not looking at three A grades, all the more reason to be careful what subjects he does.

I know some kids do retrain after their first degree. But there are many many more who just end up in non-graduate jobs. If we want to increase our kids' chances post Uni of not being in that group, one way is to guide them towards the most competitive subject choices we can. It would be different, perhaps, if the kid really liked any of the three. But we are told he doesn't.

On the more general issue, should they do what they love or what's sensible- I feel slightly passionate (if that's possible grin) about this, as so many students close down their future options by choosing subjects that close doors for them. If you go outside the Russell group list posted up thread for too many of your A levels, you are going to have fewer options at Uni and when applying for jobs.

titchy Fri 06-Dec-13 14:40:19

But beastofburden the OP's kid DOES have two A Level subject he very clearly wants to do. It is which two of the remaining three subjects that interest him he is wondering about.

That is not the same as someone who doesn't want to do any of their three choices confused

ATailOfTwoKitties Fri 06-Dec-13 14:46:36

Oscar, he does have some talent in that area, that's the trouble. He's really pretty good, but not the-one-kid-to-watch in his year, if that makes sense?

He says his best bet at the Only Career He WantsTM is to do as much of it as possible, then aim for drama college.

He does not have a Plan B.

I would like to see some hint of a Plan B. Preferably also plans C to Z, actually.

Beastofburden Fri 06-Dec-13 14:49:32

Titchy, that's what I meant to say, sorry if it was badly expressed. He has three things he might do as his 3rd choice and he doesn't really fancy any of those three options.

English and history- great.
Any of the other three- probably makes no difference so go for the one that gets you the best result with the least effort.

If he really doesn't care, he would get more bang for his buck doing maths and/or a MFL as his third option.

lainiekazan Sat 07-Dec-13 16:34:18

Thanks, all. Interesting reading.

Ds is good at maths. He is good at French. But he is not a natural mathematician, ie one who could walk the A Level, no sweat. He is very good at French, but all the advice is that you are stuffed if you an ordinary student, as there are people taking it who have a French parent, or who have been intensively schooled. The advantage of Latin is that no one cab buy advantage with a holiday home in ancient Rome!

Beastofburden Sat 07-Dec-13 16:50:24


I did a degree in French and German without any foreign travel or parents grin.

It may be hard to score an a* in French these days unless you are very fluent, I don't know as mine were a long time ago. But I don't think it is impossible to get an A grade as a normal candidate? So a lot depends on where he is aiming.

But if you look beyond the getting into Uni thing, and at his employability, I would suggest he will get more out of a French a level than a Latin a level.

Maths is popular all round as it says you are not just good at essays but can also do analysis. But it's also true that A level can be scary if you are not a natural. Perhaps that would increase his risk and stress unnecessarily, and put his other grades at risk.

I would suggest you challenge and doublecheck that advice about not doing French. A million years ago, when I did A level, I spent one Easter holiday in France (by myself on an exchange) and it just clicked.

friday16 Sat 07-Dec-13 17:09:51

but all the advice is that you are stuffed if you an ordinary student, as there are people taking it who have a French parent, or who have been intensively schooled

Who on earth is telling you that?

Beastofburden Sat 07-Dec-13 17:30:27

I think it can be very hard for normal schools to find qualified language teachers. That said, I am worried by that advice too. It sounds like a bit of a cop-out, an excuse by the school.

Going on my experience of DS1s old school, it certainly isn't true.

But if the French teaching is dodgy where you are, OP, that's a factor it's best to be realistic about. Just, employers do love a MFL (they prefer German but I guess you can't have everything...)

friday16 Sat 07-Dec-13 17:40:53

I wonder sometimes if advice "bleeds" from one exam system to another.

For example: if you are taking the UK SAT, then the Spanish paper is to be avoided by anyone other than native speakers. There's a lot of people in the US who speak native-standard Spanish (the differences between the Spanish they speak and standard Spanish aren't significant for the purposes at hand) and the SAT is graded "on the curve", so an increase in the standard of the cohort will drive down the score that a particular standard will get. The SAT won't inflate, because the number of people who achieve 800 is pretty much fixed as a proportion of those taking it (there's some averaging over sittings). That's fine for the purpose of the SAT, which is not proving a particular standard, but just pulling off the top X% of the cohort.

But A Levels are criterion-referenced, not norm-referenced, and that's been true since the late 1980s. The grade available should be the same for a given standard no matter how good or bad the cohort. If people still think it's 1983 and A Levels have fixed proportions getting each grade, or that it's like the SAT, they may think that a cohort containing more native or quasi-native speakers will drive down grades a non-native speaker can get. I t shouldn't, and without evidence there's no reason to believe it does.

It's also worth pointing out that some selective universities will discount A Levels in MFL taken by people who are living in, have lived for extended periods in, or have parents who are native speakers of the language. A Level French is not intended for native speakers, and it would be farcical for a qualification designed to be taken by people studying for 6 hours a week (or whatever it is) to be benchmarked against people who have learnt it from the cradle, and that goes both ways.

stillenacht Sat 07-Dec-13 17:42:11

Music is an academic A level and is treated as such by Oxbridge.

friday16 Sat 07-Dec-13 19:33:14

"you are taking the UK SAT,"

US SAT, of course.

lainiekazan Sun 08-Dec-13 17:34:19

I might have another go at ds to consider French. He is very good at grammar etc, but, like most of us English, feels a prat when speaking it. I just can't shake off a bit of a feeling that Philosophy is tomorrow's Meedja Studies.

lalsy Sun 08-Dec-13 22:01:50

As examples, Philosophy is on the list of Trinity's and UCL's approved A levels (and you don't need all three to be from those lists, even).Philosophy seesm to be considered a "hard" A level, but it is not a facilitating one (ie it is unlikely to be required for a university course). It seems to me to be very dry and technical though - I doubt it is easier to do well in than the others he is considering unless he "gets" it. Music and Latin are also on both those lists, btw.

An MFL as his third A level would open up another whole set of degrees according to the Informed Choices guide http://www.russellgroup.ac.uk/informed-choices/
but that only helps if he wants to do one of those degrees (MFL, European Studies etc) - and he will already have two subjects that open plenty of doors. If not, then getting high grades are most important (apart from the argument that employers prefer MFL at A level even if the degree is in something else - does anyone have a link to evidence for that, I am interested?)

I do think at some point dc have to narrow their options down - to do what they are best at and what they will enjoy. I would ask him to consider every subject he is good at - but I would not encourage him to continue a subject he doesn't like so that he will be able to apply to study more of it at degree level smile.

We went through the RG guide as a final check before my dd decided - just to make sure that any degree she vaguely liked the look of was still within reach (she hated French for example, so was quite happy to accept the consequences of not doing French A level - ie no more French!).

For example, the RG guide says for History degrees that History is essential and the following are useful: Economics, Eng lit, Philosophy, Politics, Sociology, Theology, RS or a modern or classical language. So he'd be fine with any of his options.

Sorry, long post!

mummytime Sun 08-Dec-13 22:39:42

I did a Philosophy A'level about 15 years ago, and it wasn't dry, and was highly regarded by Universities. However the Philosophy A'level I have heard students doing recently is Philosophy and Ethics which is more like A'level religious studies than true Philosophy, but it's still reasonably well regarded. The Russell group booklet only suggests that two "facilitating" A'levels are a good idea. The do even take people with "Media Studies" which isn't quite as "noddy" as it is often portrayed.
French BTW isn't as rigorous nowadays as it was when I was at school doing my A'levels (first time).

lalsy Sun 08-Dec-13 22:54:32

Absolutely mummytime, I am sure it is not dry to the right person - that's just how it seems to me - so I was warning against it as an "easier" option than music or Latin - I think sometimes people think it is chatting about whether god exists (I did some philosophy at university and dd's does seem a bit dry, but she quite enjoys it!).

antimatter Sun 08-Dec-13 23:11:03

I know some schools do Philosophy and Ethics and fewer do Philosophy.
My dd is planning to take Philosophy so we chatted to students in both schools mentioned below at open evening and they were very enthusiastic about it.

My dd's school 6th form does RS: Philosophy & Ethics with Edexcel.
Course Content:
AS level Unit 1 Philosophy of Religion: The Design Argument, The
Cosmological Argument, Miracles and the Problem of Evil
Unit 2 Religion and morality, Utilitarianism, situation ethics,
issues of war and peace and sexual ethics
Unit 3 An enquiry based investigation with a choice of topic
A2 level Unit 4 Religious experience, ontological, critiques of religious
Unit 5 Religion and morality, Deontology, natural moral law,
virtue ethics, objectivity, relativism, subjectivism, justice,
law and punishment
Unit 6 Implications of values and beliefs on religion and human
The course is assessed by examination only.

My ds's school does Philosophy with AQA
Course Content:
AS Unit 1: An Introduction to Philosophy 1
Assessment is in the form of a 90 minute written examination, with two compulsory questions on Reason and Experience and two further questions on the theme of Personhood.
•Reason and experience: What is the source of our knowledge? It is through experience or through rational thought?
•Persons: What is a person? What characteristics are required to be a person? Can non-humans be persons, for example Artificial Intelligence? What makes me the same person over time?

AS Unit 2: An Introduction to Philosophy 2
Assessment is in the form of a 90 minute written examination, with two questions to be answered on each of the following two areas of study:
•Knowledge of the external world: How do I gain knowledge of the external world? Do I ‘access’ the world directly, through my senses, or indirectly? Can I be sure that my sense-data is an accurate representation of the external world?
•Free will and determinism: Do we possess free will or are we determined to act, due to factors internal and external to us? Can I be both free and determined to act? If I am determined to act in a certain way, to what extent am I praise and blame worthy?

A2 Unit 3: Key Themes in Philosophy
Assessment is in the form of a 120 minute written examination, with two questions to be answered on each of the following two areas of study:
•Philosophy of Mind: What is the mind? What is the relation between the mind and the body? Is the mind a ‘ghostly’, immaterial soul, the brain or something else? If I can be sure that I have a mind, can I be sure that others have minds?
•Moral Philosophy: Are there moral truths and if so what is their nature? Can we deny moral truth altogether? Should moral decisions be made in terms of consequences alone, or do moral rights, duties and principles have intrinsic value independent of consequences?

A2 Unit 4: Philosophical Problems
Assessment is in the form of a 90 minute written examination, with two questions to be answered on the following area of study:
•Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, with specific reference to:
1.Empiricism: the relation between impressions and ideas; the principles of association and what they are intended to explain; Hume’s fork; the nature of belief and imagination; miracles.
2.Cause and Effect: the role of custom and repetition in causation; the constant conjunction; Hume’s definition of cause; the necessary connection; probability;
3.Free will and determinism: Hume’s attempt to reconcile free will and determinism through compatibilism; what is meant by liberty and necessity.

lainiekazan Mon 09-Dec-13 09:29:24


Isn't life easier if one is good at maths?!

Beastofburden Mon 09-Dec-13 11:05:40

Just remember to look beyond University entrance. Philosophy as a third a level will be perfectly fine as long as he is still doing English and history, wherever he applies, in my experience.

But to an employer, French would be more welcome, in my experience. S if it might also be easier for him, I think you ought to be sceptical about this advice that only native speakers can get a good grade. I'm not sure that is true.

They way to get past feeling like a dick when you speak French is (a) listen to the radio on French stations and (b) go there if you possibly can, ideally staying in a French family for a fortnight with no-one to speak English to smile

lainiekazan Mon 09-Dec-13 12:46:58

Ds did the exchange thing. Frankly that's what put him off! He had a fortnight with a family of vegan health freaks who mainly ate vacuum-packed nutburgers. Ds was traumatised...

lalsy Mon 09-Dec-13 12:49:34

I am not surprised! smile That would be my dc idea of hell.

Beastofburden Mon 09-Dec-13 12:50:43

Yeah, perhaps not the best introduction to la belle France, land of gastronomie.... Boy, he was unlucky!

Bt my French school exchange was likewise utter rubbish as I got a BOY ugh ugh ugh and we had zero in common.

mummytime Mon 09-Dec-13 12:53:48

My DD got a nice girl, with a very tolerant for a French family (she was vegetarian at the time). I think she had quite a good time, but spent far too much sitting next to the Swimming pool as her partner is a very serious swimmer.

Beastofburden Mon 09-Dec-13 13:01:58

I remember going on a paid exchange, no children, it was a young couple doing up their house and they did this to subsidise it. So if the French for "pass me a bit of two by four and the tack hammer" had come up, I would have been fine!

I also went on some kind of county council scholarship scheme thingy, my memory is hazy but it involved canoeing down the dordogne with a very international group of people, on some kind of adventure holiday. I think school exchanges are often a bit meh because you have all your school friends around and you still have to go to school etc. so you can't sort of lose yourself in the adventure, though of course I can see why everyone does them as its the cheapest way. And I wouldn't want to have to lose myself in vacuum packed nut cutlets.

Still, back to OPs kid, employers do like both maths and modern foreign languages, and so do Unis. OTOH if he will be miserable, and/or get worse grades, then it may be wrong for him. As long as he has two good subjects in English and history he will be fine for Uni entrance.

marmitecat Mon 09-Dec-13 13:11:26

I'd go for music and latin as these will ultimately make him happier. The choice between enriching your soul with music, translating wonderful (if raunchy) works of literature and moping around trying to reason away all the joy in life (think of French teenagers where philosophy is compulsory) is stark. Universities will be sympathetic to the fact that a state school applicant may have had less latin than a public school kid. Latin every time - will look good on his cv later on too.

Beastofburden Mon 09-Dec-13 13:14:33

Totally agree about enriching soul but would put up mild defence of French as my soul was pretty damn enriched by the time I had finished my degree in modern languages, and it is a continuing pleasure to me that I can speak French and German, there is wonderful literature in both languages as well as in Latin.

antimatter Mon 09-Dec-13 14:16:31

there's a lot to say to support ability to read in foreign language!
as for speaking language - listening to radio helps a lot , it would be good to get somewhere with spoken french and use it!
would he consider being male au pair in France?
or volunteering?

lalsy Mon 09-Dec-13 16:09:06

There is an awful lot of sex in Latin A level, an intriguing way to involve teenagers in the problem of translation smile

circular Mon 09-Dec-13 21:26:08

A bit late to the thread, but just wanted to say dont underestimate the work involved in A level Music.
Composition especially difficult if not your thing, DD1s group pretty much been told very rare to get above a B in that section.
Also, lots of compulsory extra CA music stuff, even I'd having instrument tuition outside of school. Although DD loves this, gets pulled out of lessons for concert rehearsals, and easy to become unpopular with other subject teachers. Always seems to be an ongoing battle with be music department and all the others at Xmas and summer concert time.
Would be worse to juggle everything if doing essay writing subjects alongside music, because of he workload.

antimatter Mon 09-Dec-13 22:32:02

my dd likes composition most; instrument learning is outside of school so is her main orchestra
6th form she is hoping for has had all A's in Music last year, 3 of those went to study Music

I think it all depends on the school how Music rehersals are managed (I guess valid q to ask during open evening)

ATailOfTwoKitties Tue 10-Dec-13 08:33:33

Yep, Lalsy: 'While the storm raged outside the cave, Dido and Aeneas raged within...'

I always suspected that it was just our undeniably pervy Latin teacher with his preference for anything involving the ravishing of nubile young maidens ('Learn the passages on the rape of the Sabines, the Rape of Lucrezia, and, oh, maybe the rape of Io, girls, and you'll be fine in the exam'), but maybe it was the syllabus?

Beastofburden Tue 10-Dec-13 08:39:40

French has sex and illegal drugs <helpful>

circular Tue 10-Dec-13 08:44:59

antimatter agree, depends on school re standards.
DDs school best for music locally, but not top notch. Get the odd A, but mainly Bs, and familiar with CUKAS, so must be getting some going off to study music.
Her main instrument lessons not in school, but school still insist on at least one choir and one orchestra/ensemble for all A level music students.

Shes new to the school, but did expect music rehearsals to be managed better. Spent much of last week stressing about rehearsals clashing with a mock, only to find there is now a practical clashing with rehearsals too. All music department say is that the other subject teachers should know better, as it happens every year.

Ehhn Tue 10-Dec-13 08:47:42

Philosophy a level not worth it. I'm in an RG dept and know that hist, Eng lit, Latin and music are all highly, highly expected/admired/desired. Not that philosophy isn't, but it is considered such a mature subject that demands incredibly deep critical thinking that it is best studied at undergraduate level.

lalsy Tue 10-Dec-13 10:52:07

I suspect Latin is the only A2 in which a detailed knowledge of the more, ahem, unusual sexual practices of the time, and their relationship with social status, is required smile.

Beastofburden Tue 10-Dec-13 11:49:17

Quite possibly, though have you read (a) Gide la Porte etroite, (b) Baudelaire les fleurs du mal and (c) anything by Sade?

The first two were on the GCSE and A level syllabus in my day. Sade wasn't, obviously... The only problem was we had bowdlerised versions of the Gide, so we never worked out what it was the main character felt so terribly guilty about having done....

lalsy Tue 10-Dec-13 12:05:06

Scope for a new league table perhaps?

Beastofburden Tue 10-Dec-13 12:07:24


ATailOfTwoKitties Tue 10-Dec-13 12:37:37

Possibly also History of Art, lalsy? Or Classical Civilization?

lalsy Tue 10-Dec-13 12:54:26

Oooh yes!

Who is going to suggest it to that nice Mr Gove?

lainiekazan Tue 10-Dec-13 14:43:11

On the sixth form open evening when ds and I were trailing round the departments, a very, er, enthusiastic male teacher of Classical Civilisation buttonholed him to show him the exciting syllabus. He was waving pictures of men's buttocks at ds whose face was vermillion. Ds said he was "No way doing bum studies for two years." grin

lalsy Tue 10-Dec-13 15:44:49

Yep, that's exactly it - literary and cultural interpretations thereof!

I like the way this thread has reached such a satisfactory point of agreement smile - do hope that has been helpful OP....

antimatter Tue 10-Dec-13 15:47:51

Lol lainiekazan at burtocks :D

Beastofburden Tue 10-Dec-13 20:21:56

I thought we could have a great syllabus for the morose and nihilistic teenager.

German- they can study Kafka, so they can see how a faceless bureaucratic machine can crush the spirit; Fontane to learn the utter futility of human love; and der Schimmelreiter by that bloke which has a long, relentless harassment into a death in a ditch of muddy water under an endless grey sky.

Philosophy - existentialist, of course, musing on the insolubility of all dilemmas and the futility of human intelligence.

History- a catalogue of error, corruption and suffering.

And perhaps Biology, to rub in how we are all 90% water and doomed to die.

I thought we could call it "Misery studies"

You're welcome smile

lalsy Wed 11-Dec-13 08:14:00

Excellent stuff! What a useful thread this has been smile

Lancelottie Wed 11-Dec-13 08:38:51

Beastie, could we add geology to that? Pondering on the mahoosive magma chamber under Yellowstone just ripening to blow our world to kingdom come, or the inexorable slide of continents into the ocean... that should cheer them up nicely.

antimatter Wed 11-Dec-13 10:35:00

I thought Lancelottie you meant their bedrooms grin

Lancelottie Wed 11-Dec-13 10:45:16

grin Palaeontoloy of the Teenage Bedroom... there's a thesis right there, antimatter.

Beastofburden Wed 11-Dec-13 10:55:29

Perfect. Bum studies, Misery studies and Palaeontology of the teenage bedroom.


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