Facilitating subjects scrapped by Russell Group universities

(154 Posts)
Mygoodlygodlingtons Thu 23-May-19 15:04:57

"Announcing its decision, the Russell Group, which is made up of 24 universities, said the list of preferred A-levels had been “misinterpreted” by students who mistakenly thought these were the only subjects that top universities would consider."


OP’s posts: |
ErrolTheDragon Thu 23-May-19 17:14:56

Your link is messed up - see if this works.


So, students didn't understand what 'facilitating subjects' actually were, and weren't. I hope the replacement makes it clear that there are some uni subjects which absolutely require specific A levels, and then which A levels are considered generally rigorous. It would be disastrous if this leads to yet more sixth formers not picking subjects which allow them to progress to their desired next step.

HarryTheSteppenwolf Thu 23-May-19 19:30:32

"Announcing its decision, the Russell Group, which is made up of 24 universities, said the list of preferred A-levels had been “misinterpreted” by students who mistakenly thought these were the only subjects that top universities would consider."

...Because they were being told this by their teachers, who didn't understand what "facilitating subjects" were. It was absolutely obvious from the outset that this would happen.

LolaSmiles Thu 23-May-19 19:35:08

I'm glad they've scrapped it.

Everyone knew that some courses had prerequisite A Levels. It's in their entry requirements and has been for at least the last 15 years.
The problem with facilitating subjects is that students have been worrying that they need facilitating subjects and picking them over other perfectly valid options (e.g. opting for literature instead of language a level) because they wanted to keep their options open.

This sounds like 'the good old days' but we managed to select a levels and university courses without someone else writing a guide to choosing our options.

ErrolTheDragon Thu 23-May-19 20:11:26

* This sounds like 'the good old days' but we managed to select a levels and university courses without someone else writing a guide to choosing our options.*

I don't remember there being nearly so many A level subjects on offer back in the day, though. Few if any of the 'xxx studies' type of thing.

MsRabbitRocks Thu 23-May-19 20:14:19

Because they were being told this by their teachers, who didn't understand what "facilitating subjects" were

In my experience, it was parents making this decision and teachers trying but failing to convince them, because it was apparently there in black and white for the parents to use as ‘proof’. Believe me that a huge number of teachers are happy about this change/clarification.

LolaSmiles Thu 23-May-19 20:19:01

Very true errol, but I remember ordering a uni prospectus through the post, reading them, asking my teachers their advice.

It's not rocket science to think 'I want to do a science degree so I should probably have a science a level and maths would be good' or 'I'm interested in courses in X area, I have the internet at my fingertips and can find out the entry requirements'.

Of course there was lots of umming and ahhing through the process but that's normal for teens.


SarahAndQuack Fri 24-May-19 00:19:43

I'm glad they've made this decision.

But I do see why that did it in the first place. @lolasmiles it's all fine if you know, aged 15, that you want to do a science degree (or anything else). But lots of students have no idea, and if your parents didn't go to university you are likely to feel more at sea navigating these choices.

LolaSmiles Fri 24-May-19 06:47:26

I was the first in my family to go to university. We got advice from teachers, form tutors, our 6th form etc.
Check uni courses of things you might be interested in and if you're not sure what to do then the advice was generally arts/humanities or sciences and then pick a spread across the discipline (or do 3 from one side and 1 from the other). You'll probably end up picking a university course from things you enjoy at a level too.

The new guidance seems to be very sinilar to the advice we were given.

Xenia Fri 24-May-19 07:09:42

As long as people still choose the harder subjects and realise that will help them. If they all think they can do knitting, photography and sculpture to get into Oxford then that would be a shame as they might be misleading themselves.

In my day just about the only subjects were the hard few facilitating subjects - i did English lit, history and German so the confusion did not arise. A friend of mine who left our school for a different sixh form did needlework A level (she got an E sadly even though her physical needlework part got an A, but the theory let her down) and even then we all knew that was not the subject to do for top universities (although hardly anyone went to university even from my school and only 15% or people in the country in those days) so not so relevant as now.

BubblesBuddy Fri 24-May-19 08:49:41

The same applied at my school in that the A levels offered were the facilitating ones or subjects that were academic but complemented the facilitating ones for specific courses such as Economics. We didn’t have Law, Media Studies or Sociology.

I think many students seem to know they will be scientists. However teachers seem less clear about what A levels are necessary for even the mainstream science courses such as Vet Science. A very clever girl I know from a grammar school had to do the foundation course at Nottingham because she had the wrong science A levels. So people can get it wrong! Many also think Law is good prep for a Law degree for example.

I thought the facilitating subject info was perfectly clear. In fact young people from challenging backgrounds going to crap schools need this info. They are the most disadvantaged by making the wrong choices. They are told that all subjects are equal whereas others know that some are more equal than others and will therefore get the places. One assumes Durham and others will still want the best candidates and these will be the ones with the grades in appropriate subjects.

OKBobble Fri 24-May-19 09:57:10

This fills me with dread. I have a friend whose son is doing economics, business studies and art with a view to doing possibly economics at degree and despite me saying he will limit his options at uni without maths his pretty good 6th Form made no comment whatsoever on his A level choices either it terms of overlap or destination subject.

NewAccount270219 Fri 24-May-19 10:06:54

The today programme had an item on the new website they're using to replace the facilitating list - it doesn't sound like they're abandoning the idea that some A-levels open more doors than others, they're just using technology to do it in a more flexible way.

While you can niggle with the details of it, I think the facilitating list was a good thing, and I hope the website will be too, because it made public knowledge that was already widespread among middle class schools and parents, but which often wasn't known by less privileged students. It isn't obvious or intuitive that history a-level is more valued by top law departments than law A-level, and keeping that quiet or pretending it isn't so only benefits middle class students.

I'd like to see something similar for degrees themselves. I found it depressing to see how many first-generation students were doing, say, law or business studies at a low rated university when they could have done an arts subject at a much better rated university, because they thought (falsely) that top jobs/graduate schemes/etc would obviously value a 'useful' degree. Law is a particular problem because it has a cultural prestige and an expectation of employability that leads to big disappointment for students from low ranked universities, especially when it turns out they'd have to pay for their own training to actually be a lawyer.

Piggywaspushed Fri 24-May-19 10:25:13

Hopefully, my school will now change its options booklet to reverse the decline of uptake of some A Level subjects (and the knock on/ back effect at GCSE).

Piggywaspushed Fri 24-May-19 10:25:50

Also related :


Piggywaspushed Fri 24-May-19 10:30:35

The article's focus isn't really on people making 'crap' choices -- one of which MN would think I teach--, though. It's about how the list emphasises hums, science and langs (fat lot of good that is doing) and Eng Lit at the expense of Arts subjects. Even Eng Lit is seeing a decline because so many sciences are on the list and society is placing so much emphasis on the earning power of science that perfectly valid (and more suited to some students) routes are being rejected.

I teach lots of students who have a random science in A level choices rather than something they would really love and enjoy because they think they 'ought to'. these won't be people pursuing medicine , science or maths degrees.

Piggywaspushed Fri 24-May-19 10:35:10

Oh... and to add , my DSs' (very arts focused) Secondary school ahs just had to scrap A Level music because of lack of uptake . they have plenty of students in choir/orchestra and so on and a large GCSE class.

I don't think RG lists is the only reason, though. there are many other factors.

Kazzyhoward Fri 24-May-19 10:41:04

We went through the pain of choosing A levels with our son a couple of years ago. Sadly, we found the school/teachers very unhelpful. At the last parent's evening before the choice had to be made, every teacher was just basically saying "choose mine"! We came away no clearer than we were before. The teachers of "facilitating subjects" were shouting that from the rooftops, the other teachers were saying that facilitating subjects weren't really that important anyway. There was no clear "advice". It's made worse because most GCSE kids don't have a clue about what career they're interested in and choices have to be made before the GCSE's (and at his school, even before the mocks!).

As it is, he bitterly regrets his choices as they were made in the heart rather than the head. One subject has been such a disaster that he's about to drop it which is restricting his uni options further. He was also steered away from Further Maths which we now find out seems to be a requirement of most of the upper end of the RG universities for Maths related degrees. In the months before his GCSEs when he had to choose A levels, he had no idea he'd get the top grades in Maths and Further Maths and wasn't looking at the top of the RG's so had no idea that Further Maths A level was such a deal breaker for them.

BubblesBuddy Fri 24-May-19 10:59:17

Some schools do allow late changes to FM after results come out precisely for this reason. On the other thread about social mobility there is great emphasis being placed on bright DC from poor backgrounds getting the right advice for Oxford. I have been saying that this advice simply isn’t there in deprived areas and bright DC are not properly advised from a very early age. It definitely hampers social mobility and will be a barrier to these DC going to Oxford, or indeed Warwick! Can DC do STEP to aim higher? (Although many deprived areas would not have teachers to help with that of course). I think we all want DC to get the most out of education that they can but teachers have, mostly, had one job and done one degree. They are not best placed to advise. It is hugely difficult when neither parents or schools can get past biased advice and are unable to make decisions based on what the target university sector actually wants. What subject is taken as s third subject for a humanities degree often won’t make a huge difference. The problem comes when all three are not remotely what is wanted.

Law is a massive problem and degrees are hierarchical. Many don’t understand the recruitment into the profession and that you don’t have to study law at all!

ErrolTheDragon Fri 24-May-19 11:03:27

* I don't think RG lists is the only reason, though. there are many other factors.*

I doubt the RG lists have much to do with the drop in arts and tech subjects, relative to:

1) changes in GCSEs - gcse choices made earlier, fewer subjects taken. My pre-reforms DD was able to do the EBACC set, plus electronic products, comp sci and drama. Given that the number of GCSEs is now more limited, the EBACC becomes more problematic. If she'd been limited, she'd have been pissed off by having to do German and English literature (the latter was almost entirely counterproductive).

2) changes to A levels, in particular scrapping AS levels. This makes it harder for students to take more subjects at the outset, with the option of dropping one after AS

3) budget cuts. I'm pretty sure arts and tech subjects must be more expensive than subjects which can be taught almost entirely with a whiteboard. And I believe it's another factor in pupils taking fewer subjects at gcse and particularly A level.

BubblesBuddy Fri 24-May-19 11:22:48

Science subjects need labs and are expensive to teach. As they are at university. Some arts subjects are fairly expensive, eg art, but humanities and maths are relatively cheap as are MFL. There does not need to be huge amounts of subjects outside the facilitating ones. Law, Sociology, Film Studies, Media Studies are not needed but they are nice to do with 1 or 2 other subjects from a core list. Core subjects plus a reasonable choice of A levels for most courses is great plus BTecs of course.

Comefromaway Fri 24-May-19 11:45:02

Ok - So due to the lack of actual A levels in "Knitting, Photography & Sculpture" I entered the nearest equivalents into Informed Choices

Design Technology (Textiles)
Art & Design (Photography) or (Fine Art incloudes photography & sculpture)
Then for a 3rd I chose the much maligned Media Studies

And I came up with a variety of courses you could apply to including Fine Art at Oxford (of course the most prestigious instituions offering this kind of subject are not Russell Group necessarily.

ErrolTheDragon Fri 24-May-19 12:44:02

How well 'being able to apply to' translates into 'getting an offer from' is another matter, of course.

Lancelottie Fri 24-May-19 12:54:52

Kazzyhoward -- is he the type who could teach himself Further Maths from the online courses, maybe in a gap year? Try amsp.org.uk/ for information. DS (doing engineering degree) didn't do the whole thing but did pick up a couple of extra modules that way.

ErrolTheDragon Fri 24-May-19 13:21:41

Someone with aspirations for a high ranking maths degree ought to be able to teach themselves some of the FM content. DD (another engineer, 'good at maths' rather than 'a mathematician') self-taught M3 (old spec) and did very well on it.

Schools used to encourage bright students to do 4 A levels so there was no reason not to include FM alongside maths and 2 others. Whereas if they're being squeezed down to only 3, FM, maths and physics is exactly right if you know you want to do maths, physics or engineering (other than chem eng) but restrictive if you don't know for sure what you want to go on to.

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