Fourth A level no longer considered advantageous for university application?

(31 Posts)
SuperMoonIsKeepingMeUpToo Sat 25-Aug-18 08:05:06

We're very proud that our twin boys both did extremely well in their GCSE exams, so now we're in
the process of college enrolment. The college they want to go to (walking distance, friends going three, nice 'feel') is no longer offering further maths, which both boys wanted to do, citing universities no longer valued a fourth A level. Is this true?

They're also no longer offering the computer science A level one of the boys wanted to do and I'm now a bit suspicious about them withdrawing both courses, and am worried the college is going into a decline. (I've also heard on the grapevine they lost their head of maths, which might explain the withdrawal of further maths.)

Any inside knowledge, particularly regarding the value of further maths as a fourth A level, gratefully received! TIA.

OP’s posts: |
argumentativefeminist Sat 25-Aug-18 08:13:25

Well, university offers are typically 3 grades, for example AAB. Some are based on UCAS points in which case a 4th A level will allow you to collect more points, but this is becoming less and less common I think. The fourth A Level does give you an extra "chance" to meet one of the grades of your offer - but to be quite honest, most people seem to struggle with 3. I struggled with 3, probably still would now, and I'm about to graduate undergrad with a First. In lots of ways A Levels are much harder than a degree, so I'd stick with 3!

argumentativefeminist Sat 25-Aug-18 08:15:12

The head of maths may well have taught both of those A levels or been a significant part of the teaching of them and they may not be confident that they could secure a good teacher in time to run them this year? That doesn't necessarily mean the college in general is "in decline".

NicoAndTheNiners Sat 25-Aug-18 08:16:11

That’s certainly what the head at dds very academic school said last year. 4 a levels used to be pretty much the norm there but dds year was firmly told 3 only. Very, very few exceptions would be made and generally only if it was to add further maths to maths. This is a school which sends quite a lot of kids to Oxbridge.

SleightOfMind Sat 25-Aug-18 08:19:11

DS wants to do a maths degree and has been told that he will need to take a year off and do a further maths A-level before applying to certain universities (Imperial, UCL etc) no matter what he gets in his existing three A-levels.

Check entry reqs for the universities your twins are interested in and congratulations smile

MaisyPops Sat 25-Aug-18 08:19:19

I understand not offering a 4th option block if that's their decision (universities don't require it and post 16 funding means not all places will offer as much).
However, further maths has always been one option block in the 6th forms I've worked in. Students who take the further maths route have the same amount of time on the timetable as maths but in y12 they sat A level maths (AS Jan sometimes) & then in y13 they sat A level further maths.
Further maths students could have had 5 options if they filled all 4 blocks, and quite a few did.

Computer science is usually a smaller cohort a level so it may well be that the numbers aren't financially viable to run the course (Eg my a level classes are usually between 12 and 24. Subjects that have been withdrawn or limited have had fewer than 10 students for a number of years).

Neither of those things means a college is on the decline. It is more likely to be logistics and budget. Of course if the college no longer offers what you DC need to progress then it may have stopped being the right college for them.

Bunnylove83 Sat 25-Aug-18 08:21:38

I'm the Head of Sixth Form at a comprehensive school. We used to do four AS levels and then drop to three A Levels, but now we start almost all students (95%+) on three A Levels. Universities only make offers based on three, so we have prioritised getting the best grades for those subjects.

The exceptions are made only for students who got top grades across the board (so this year all 8s and 9s) if they have a particular reason for doing four. This is almost always so that they can do Further Maths, but may also be where they are a native speaker of a language or if they are genuinely undecided on what they might want to do in the future so want to keep their options a little more open. I write to all parents on four courses to say that at any point we don't think they are coping on four, either academically or in terms of attendance or mental health, then we drop to three with very little consultation.

I wouldn't worry too much about Computer Science. It is a small subject and the chances are that the main teacher left and they either couldn't recruit someone suitable, pre- enrolment figures suggest that not many students want to take it, or they don't have enough Computer Science lessons to justify recruiting a full time teacher. We've done the same with Music this year, and it is definitely nothing to be suspicious about, and I hope we'll have it back next year.

Further Maths would be more of a concern. Do your sons want to study Maths in the future, or is it more that they want to do a less specific STEM course, and this may have helped them? If they do want to study Maths then I would highly recommend them looking at other institutions that offer it as I can't think of a student who has gone on to study Maths at a Russell Group university (which I assume your sons are aiming for) without it. Having said that, if the school conforms with universities that Further Maths wasn't offered then I think this is taken into account when making offers, so does not rule out doing a Maths degree entirely.

Good luck.


Bobbybobbins Sat 25-Aug-18 08:21:54

Our students who want to do maths at uni nearly all do further maths too - for many of the top unis they will want this. They will also have to do step papers for some unis which are very difficult and I would hope their college would support them in this.

PamsterWheel Sat 25-Aug-18 08:26:37

Was it ever?

TheThirdOfHerName Sat 25-Aug-18 08:32:53

DS2 has also just done his GCSEs. He wants to study Physics at university, and likes the look of the course at Oxford. It is a very Maths-heavy course.

At the Oxford open day, the Physics department said they understand that not every sixth form / college offers Further Maths, but if an applicant's school does offer it, they will be expected to take it.

At DS2's school, Further Maths can only be taken as a fourth A-level.

He got a solid 9 in Maths and a very high A^ (97%) in Level 2 Further Maths, and he also has a strong work ethic; he has done some Maths most days over the summer.

However, he has friends who also met the requirements for doing Further Maths as a fourth A-level but are choosing not to take it, because it won't be relevant for what they want to do next.

Cauliflowersqueeze Sat 25-Aug-18 08:35:51

3 only. The content is far deeper and broader so doing 4 would mean spreading yourself thinner.
Only exception might be further maths in addition to maths. But think hard about whether or not it’s worth it. No value to having an additional one now AS is not done.

wurzelburga Sat 25-Aug-18 08:36:06

I think it depends...

If your DSs want to study maths at university they will be competing for places with students who have done Maths A level in Y12 and FM in Y13. I suspect most who do well in STEP papers will also have done FM and that your DSs will be at a disadvantage if they are applying to universities which use STEP. They will also find Y1 of a university maths course more challenging if they have not done FM. Although some universities may offer extra classes for those in this position.

On the four A level point generally many students do take four - including four in arts subjects which is a big ask. University admissions look at the application in the round taking into account what a school offers etc so would not penalise an applicant with three A levels. But if other factors were equal - same/ similar school etc they will judge that the student who has got top grades in four subjects is a stronger candidate than one who has got top grades in three. The key point is top grades though. 3x A/A* trumps 2x A and 2x c.

butterflymum Sat 25-Aug-18 08:44:23

If you are based in England, you may find this site helpful:

especially as it might be possible for your son to pursue FM with their support, if he cannot do it directly via his 6th form.

butterflymum Sat 25-Aug-18 08:45:37

Oops, meant to post link to Student page, which is:

HostessTrolley Sat 25-Aug-18 08:59:43

My son is doing computer science at uni, he doesn’t have computer science A level or even gcse but it hasn’t been a problem. He chose royal Holloway because he’s an Infosec person and their masters course has GCHQ accreditation, they are research focussed in the field. His grades could have got him into a more prestigious university (AAA), but he was looking for quite specific things in the course and RH ticked the boxes. They were more interested in his skills and knowledge in computing than his qualifications, he is self taught but has done well in some competitions - he was on the gb team for the cyber security challenge. The first year has been spent giving students who have come in with very different backgrounds a foundation to build on. He’s found the first year quite unchallenging but has hopes that it will get more involved, particularly as they start to choose modules and specialise more.

BubblesBuddy Sat 25-Aug-18 09:04:20

I think fewer and fewer students are taking four in arts/humanities because it is not needed by any university. Not Oxbridge not anywhere.

However Maths is different and it will depend on university aspiration. My neighbour’s DS did Maths, FM and Physics. He does maths at a very good RG university that didn’t require STEP. If a university has STEP, eg Warwick, Cambridge et al, not doing FM would be a huge disadvantage and probably not acceptable (I have not checked) and unusual. They may not insist, but everyone will gave it! Is there anyone to teach STEP? They will find STEP challenging if they teach themselves. Or will they only apply to universities where it is not required? That limits options.

I do think FM is a huge advantage for any maths based course and if a DC is very good at maths, they should do it. In schools I know it’s taught in both y12 and y13 alongside maths. I know lots of DC who have done it as a 4th subject because some universities count maths and FM as one subject and see FM as half an A level.

You need to check out what each university requires. Start at the top - Cambridge - and Work back through Warwick, Imperial, and RGs you feel would suit DCs. I think the loss of FM is a great loss and I would move schools to get it. It would be a deal breaker for many. It could also mean they are not working with the best mathematicians in the area who would want FM too. I tend to think maximising your chances is best. Three A levels to include FM is certainly acceptable at some very good universities. Check out entry requirements for maths and other courses they might be interested in, eg Computer Science, Engineering etc.

captainoftheshipwreck Sat 25-Aug-18 09:40:38

DD had Cambridge interview for maths based on 3 As one of which was FM

ProfessorLayton1 Sat 25-Aug-18 11:15:11

Do the boys know what they want to do ?
My Dd did not and took 5 A levels - FM, Maths, Economics, Chemistry and Biology.
She was considering natural sciences or economics and almost all top level universities looked favourably if you offer FM as a subject. One of our friends very intelligent Dd did not get into Oxford or Imperial to study physics as she did not do FM. So, if they want to do maths , economics , physics and engineering- it is important that they do FM.
Dd dropped economics ( awful teacher could have contributed to this ) and is dropping FM this year as she has decided to try for Medicine ( FM is not considered as a fourth subject by led schools so there is no point in continuing this ) so only has three A levels - Chemistry, Biology and maths
Better to take 4/5 and drop things that you don't require or find hard.. how will the children know what they want to do at 16!
You take these bright young things and make them study such narrow range of subjects - it feels so wrong to me.
Have a look at IB as well..

OhYouBadBadKitten Sat 25-Aug-18 11:34:09

Loss of Fm would be a deal breaker for me too if they wanted to study it. Too limiting.

veggiethrower Sat 25-Aug-18 12:34:31

To be honest, if they are really interested in Maths and possibly want to study Maths at university, I'd be looking for a different sixth form option so that they can do further Maths.

donquixotedelamancha Sat 25-Aug-18 13:12:00

The issue isn't not having a 4th A level (which there are arguments for). The issue is not having Further Maths which is pretty important for a number of STEM options.

As with PPs, I'd run a mile from that college- it's a bad sign.

Needmoresleep Sat 25-Aug-18 13:18:50

The strong advice DS was given was that if he wanted to study a quantitative course at University (he graduated in Econometrics) it was use to do as much maths at school as possible. This was probably good advice as at University they went through the FM syllabus at lightning speed. He to four plus 'fun' one, which allowed him to keep up history along with economics. Having kept up two essay subjects is also useful. The first year of his PhD requires compulsory taught economic history, and any job would have required an ability to write analytical reports.

So Universities only require three, but four give you more breadth. A lot comes down to capacity.

jayritchie Sat 25-Aug-18 13:22:41

The further maths thing is a nightmare isn't it?

For top universities for courses in maths, physics, economics and engineering it can be pretty much a requirement. Not many really demand 4 A levels but just M, FM, Physics can be a bit limiting.

I'd be concerned by a college which didn't offer further maths. A lot of those who are strong at maths, or motivated to careers where it is preferred, would look elsewhere so you may end up with a not great cohort in the class. When I did A levels - a long time ago - FM was recommended if you wanted to be in a class with strong students for maths and physics.

ragged Sat 25-Aug-18 13:25:15

I have impression that all schools are struggling for math teachers. OP's won't be unusual.
I had to go mega-Tiger-Mum to persuade DD's 6th form to let her do 4xA-levels. At moment they had said ok but I expect them to repeat protests in about June 2019 when the decision will be finalised. To me it feels like they just care about their headline statistics & which Unis kids went to. What a palava.

JuneMyNameIsJune Sat 25-Aug-18 13:31:21

DS2 was interviewed for Cambridge (Engineering) with 3 including Further Maths. He did Maths, Further Maths and Physics so Further Maths was not a 4th 'add on' subject. He did do a 4th subject at AS though (Chemistry).

Agree with pp's who advise contacting preferred institutions and asking them for specific guidance on their criteria.

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