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Views on 2015 A level changes.

(45 Posts)
mumyoga Thu 04-Dec-14 19:28:44

I have heard there will be 30% more content in A levels, combined with no course content at all. I am nervous about the year group being guinea pigs. All new systems take some time to bed in. Any views? The teachers I have spoken to do not seem happy.

noblegiraffe Thu 04-Dec-14 20:55:00

Maths and further maths changes were due to happen in 2016, but recently this has been changed to 2017 so that the kids sitting the new A-levels will have also sat the new GCSEs. It's bonkers to think that this was a last minute amendment instead of a common sense plan from the start.

I am really concerned that by making maths A-level harder, that take-up will plummet, as it did in the past when they messed around with it.

And the plan to get rid of AS levels as 50% of an A-level is just so stupid as defies belief.

All the changes are political, poorly thought out and rushed through. I feel very sorry for the students.

HowDoesThatWork Thu 04-Dec-14 23:53:22


I think this will affect my son. He is Y9, thinking of maths & further maths as two of his A levels.

Why is the AS level change daft? Does it mean that more than 50% of the A level is earned at the end of the two years?

caroldecker Thu 04-Dec-14 23:58:09

Why should further maths be easy?
Why should you have half an a level?

lecherslady Fri 05-Dec-14 00:07:20

Well said Noble.

Yes, the AS changes are daft. Both Oxford and Cambridge (amongst others) have spoken out against them, but it's another case where the educational experts know nothing and Gove knows best!

I'm off to the DFE for consultation about my subject, but I very much doubt the government will listen, unfortunately.

MrsSquirrel Fri 05-Dec-14 10:32:22

My dd is angry about it too. She doesn't want to be a guinea pig.

Going to 6th form open evenings, teachers were saying things like we think this will be the syllabus, but if Labour win the election in May, it may be something different. Common sense plan from the start? hmm

It's all political imo, hard to see how the changes will benefit the dc at all.

Poisonwoodlife Fri 05-Dec-14 10:49:50

Carol well Cambridge have put the arguments from their point of view.

From a pupils point of view:

Having an opportunity to sample 4 subjects at AS gives you a chance to make a more informed decision on what to drop or keep on, in one DD's case, all four, in the other DDs case the subject she dropped was the one she originally most wanted to study. The decision at the end of Year 12 was different in both cases to what it would have been in Year 11.

In deciding between the A level and IB route it also means that a fourth subject in your bag as it were together with extra curricular helps match the breadth of the IB where some of the subjects are done at a similar subsidiary level. I agree having half a subject that takes you nowhere, leaving no potential to take it further, as seems to be the new proposal for the fourth AS ( but no one really knows) seems pointless, and it will no doubt wither on the vine. Internationally A levels are viewed as narrow and prematurely specialist, this is a step in the wrong direction.

In one DDs case her AS results completely changed her aspirations for subject and uni, since as it turned out she came into her own at the higher level. This I think is the unis argument, that as well as giving them a more robust indication of ability it encourages able pupils who may not up to now have realised how able they are, likely to be disproportionately those who have under priviledged backgrounds / poor schooling.

Since she has a learning difficulty (but is very bright) having all her exams at the end of two years would have been beyond stressful, and it is doubtful she would have shown her true ability. She is now doing very well at a top uni, where exams are at the end of one year, along with an element of constant assessment, so what would have been demonstrated by extensive examinations at the end of two years work?

The only benefit as far as I can see will be for some boys who tend to be less mature and over represented amongst those who underperform at AS and those with prodigious memories who thrive on examinations (which unis make clear are not what they want).

I am sure IB courses will now have students queuing to sign up. I am just glad my DDs are now safe from all the change and twisted thinking.....

summerends Fri 05-Dec-14 11:25:22

Poisonwood although the IB will allow a broader curriculum it still has the stress of terminal exams. It is probably fairer for IB students and result comparability that A level students will no longer be examined in a modular fashion.
I do take your point that some students will always underperform in a system of terminal exams.

catslife Fri 05-Dec-14 11:31:30

"^I have heard there will be 30% more content in A levels, combined with no course content at all.^"
The syllabus for the new A levels has been written, but these have to be approved by OFQUAL, before they can be published and the details sent to schools. I understand that the process is taking longer than expected, but agree that it's harder on those students applying for sixth form now and choosing subjects. Also harder on the teacher who will need to draw up teaching and assessments plans for the new syllabus (alongside teaching the new GCSEs).

The AS level in itself is not really a stand-alone qualification. But it's value is that there is such a step-up between GCSE and A level, particularly in Maths and Science subjects, that it is very difficult to predict how students will do at A level or at Uni from their GCSE results alone. What the AS level does is gives students some flexibility so that they can give up their weakest subject at the end of Y12 and continue wiuth their best subjects at A2. Or in some cases move to a more vocational course after one year.
There are several things that concern me about these changes:
1. moving to exams at the end of 2 years will mean more students will not achieve the required standard at the end of the course.
2. Students may be encouraged to play it safe and less will take more difficult subjects e.g. Maths and Sciences. Given that there is a skills shortage in these areas how will this help?
3. Schools will increase their entry requirements for starting A levels - thus penalisigg some that have underperformed e.g. due illness, SEN or anxiety issues etc.
I did fill out an on-line consultation in my professional capacity but these changes seems to have been brought in anyway.

Poisonwoodlife Fri 05-Dec-14 11:37:20

Summerends it depends on the subject you do but in most subjects there is an element of internal continual assessment. By the end of the second year you will also have amassed points from the extended essay, knowledge module essay and extra curricular /service activities. The workload as a result during the two years is greater than A levels but the pressure when it comes to the terminal exams less. I have friends teaching IB overseas where students face a straight choice and it is their view that it is a greater workload but there are more ways to amass points even if terminal exams are not going to play to your strengths.

catslife Fri 05-Dec-14 11:47:26

The workload as a result during the two years is greater than A levels but the pressure when it comes to the terminal exams less.

I disagree with this statement about the IB. The IB is graded from 4 to 7 with 4 being the lowest and 7 the highest grade. If a student does not reach the standard required to reach level 4 in one subject, they will not be awarded the IB qualification. At least with A levels it's possible to be ungraded (U) in one subject but still have A*-E results in the others!

Poisonwoodlife Fri 05-Dec-14 12:18:39

Point taken but even in a non selective International School (though selection by affluence) they have never had anyone not get the IB. I am afraid I was speaking from the narrow minded perspective of able pupils but take your point that it is probably not the option for someone not able to cope with the depth and bredth IYSWIM.

And both my DDs opted for A levels, with EPQs and other activities because they are respectively Science and Humanities specialists and it suits them, I do get that, but wondering if all this messing about and uncertainty would not have tipped them into what is actually a far more respected qualification internationally. It is respected because of it's bredth, these reforms are not going to address that, as the introduction of AS levels was meant to do, at all.

mumyoga Fri 05-Dec-14 12:24:49

Ahhh catslife you raise avery interesting point. My dd is in a difficult dilemma. She would have (past system) gone for 4 A levels. Biology, chemistry, physics and history (to keep the humanity in). We are told by the school that only 3 A's are going to be possible. So we considered IB. She is bright and could do it, but then is compromised regarding sciences. 3 A's is better than no IB. I understand Oxford don't like the IB and Cambridge do. Still no further forward. Any marine biologists out there with the IB????

Poisonwoodlife Fri 05-Dec-14 12:26:10

At the other end of the scale, the pressure on IB students seeking to get into the best universities is going to be less than a student who has to get As or worse A*s all riding entirely on terminal exams, especially in the early years when new qualifications are bedding down. My DDs have been the guinea pigs for tweaks to the syllabus eg to the Biology A2 and that introduced quite enough stress and uncertainty.

catslife Fri 05-Dec-14 13:11:19

Yes mumyoga with the IB you can only do 2 Science subjects plus Maths. You also need one humanity and a language (either English or MFL).
IMO as former Chemistry teacher: A level Physics is hard without taking Maths. It is a bit unclear what is happening about practical work (I understand that they will have to do experiments, but this will no longer count towards the final grade). However 3 Sciences at A level would be a lot of practical work. So I would recommend Chem, Biology and History.

BirdintheWings Fri 05-Dec-14 13:21:58

On a purely selfish note, I'm very glad that DS1 had the old system. He hit nearly 100% scores across his AS exams, then had fairly hefty health problems in his second year and did far worse (relatively speaking), but still got AAA because the two years were averaged out.

A more typical experience amongst his friends seems to be for poorish AS results to startle some of the ditzier boys into actually doing some work for the second year.

Poisonwoodlife Fri 05-Dec-14 13:35:20

mumyoga If she is bright enough to get 3 As and works hard then I don't think there is a risk of no IB. I do know plenty of girls who went from the IB to study Sciences including Medicine and Vet Science.

My DD is not a marine biologist but she is on the Biology stream of a Natural Sciences course (actually now a Masters) and Maths plays a very significant part in the course, not just the compulsory Maths modules, which they do for a reason, but analysis of data and results in the Biology modules, and, sorry not a Scientist, but the cutting edge stuff seems to requite a lot of modelling etc. She decided to keep up 4 ASs because she felt she would need the knowledge from all of her Science A levels in her degree, especially Maths, she did Maths, Biology, Chemistry and Psychology, and so it has proved. As I say not a specialist in Marine Biology, she has increasingly leaned to synthetic biology, but if your DD is considering Cambridge she will be studying Nat Sci in the Biology stream, specifically because they consider modern scientists need a wider grounding in Science before they specialise (possibly why they like the IB)

summerends Fri 05-Dec-14 14:19:42

For those stuck with A levels, I wonder for pupils who need a greater flexibility of subject choice if the AS level will increasingly be recognised as a stand alone qualification similar to the IB standard level.
If IB students can fit in the equivalent of 3 A levels and 3 AS levels why do A levels (new or old) take up so much more allotted teaching and independent study time?

BackforGood Fri 05-Dec-14 14:47:14

I don't think the "I don't want my dc to be the guinea pig" argument carries any weight though (and I speak of someone with a dd in Yr11 so will be in this cohort). If it did, then there would never ever be able to be any changes to anything - someone always has to be the first year through.

noblegiraffe Fri 05-Dec-14 15:19:55

Yes, but previously when there have been changed to qualifications, they have had pilot studies to see how students get on. GCSEs were trialled alongside O-levels for a few years, I think, to get it right.

But in order to rush these changes through before the general election it was decided that there would be no pilot. An entire cohort's futures will rest upon these entirely untested exams. They will literally be the first to sit them. This is outrageous.

I once taught a class who sat a pilot for a new functional maths qualification. After the pilot, the entire thing was scrapped. So it's not like pilots never pick up problems.

mumyoga Sun 07-Dec-14 07:54:09

It is precisely this, Noblegiraffe, that is making me think that DD should try the IB, as at least their marking will be more consistent. I think the A level could be a complete lottery, and as DD is aiming for A*'s this could be very dangerous. Whereas attaining a minimum of 32 points shouldn't be a problem (which should be the equivalent of 3 A* levels). However do the Uni's really equate 32 points with 3 A* at A level, or do they just cream off the top IB scores in the 40 point mark. So does anyone know how the Uni's judge IB versus A*'s at A level.

stn24 Sun 07-Dec-14 08:51:43

A Level Maths has increased uptake in recent years does not mean the quality of the uptake has increased too. If you ever have a chance to speak to a Head of Maths, he/she will tell you the same thing, students need at least an A at GCSE to even think about doing AS Maths. At the end of year 12, 1 in 4 will drop out, national figure in 2011.

Making it harder is not a solution by the way. It is should be that GCSE getting harder, which is happening, to bridge the gap and prepare pupils for A Level. There is no a point to get a big intake in year 12 then a lot of them will drop it because they can't event get more than a grade E. It should be about better prepared and better informed pupils that choose to do A Level Maths.

AtiaoftheJulii Sun 07-Dec-14 09:58:31

mumyoga just have a look at uni entrance requirements. Generally I've noticed that AAA level courses ask for high 30s rather than low 30s IB points.

caroldecker Sun 07-Dec-14 10:45:35

Oxford state A level offers are from AAA to A*A*A*. IB offers are 38-40, with 6&7 in the higher levels.

noblegiraffe Sun 07-Dec-14 11:10:07

Increasing uptake at A-level wasn't about increasing the quality of candidates, but about widening access to candidates who weren't as confident who had been put off taking maths altogether by the difficulty of the A-level post-curriculum 2000 changes. Uptake plummeted disastrously when they made it harder, so they deliberately made maths A-level easier.

And now they're making it harder again. Idiots. I expect they'll say it doesn't matter that uptake will go down because they can funnel kids into the lesser Core Maths qualification.

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