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AS entries plummet by nearly 40%. Was this Gove's worst idea yet?

(41 Posts)
noblegiraffe Thu 17-Aug-17 12:28:48

"Overall, the number of AS-Level entries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland decreased by around 468,000, or 39.1%, from 1,196,000 to 728,000 – on top of a 13.7% decline we’d seen last year.

The drop is driven by what is going on in England – with the decoupling of AS- and A-Levels leading to AS-Levels being abandoned en masse.

In geography, AS-Level entries were down 50%; in biology they were down 55%; while in psychology down 56%, to look at just three examples."

Many schools are now moving to students only taking 3 subjects from the start, making it much trickier to deal with a duff choice or bad result at the end of Y12. Cambridge University was against the decoupling because good AS results from less typical Oxbridge candidates were what gave them the confidence to apply.
And I'm really worried about the effect this will have on Maths A-level entries. Will people be put off taking what is perceived to be a difficult subject if they don't have the safety net of being able to drop it at the end of Y12 and still get an AS in it?

homebythesea Thu 17-Aug-17 12:56:10

when looking at 6th forms with DD I was told by several staff at different schools they would not be continuing with AS because the way the syllabus was set out meant that the work load was disproportionately heavy in the second year. Not doing the AS meant the staff could choose where to "break" at the end of the first year and/or the order in which they tackle different topics. So for them it was a practical decision.

We managed with 2 year A levels back in the day and I welcome the fact that students will now have a year (lower sixth) to breathe and learn and not have to focus on taking (external) exams, just like I did. My older child did AS and A2 and there was just no let up from Y10 onwards.

ErrolTheDragon Thu 17-Aug-17 12:57:13

In one way getting rid of AS is good, as means there's a bit of a break from the 3 relentless years of public exams. It seemed to work ok back in my day, when most people just did A levels. I think the problem is more what you've said, that some schools aren't wanting to let students start more than 3, and that is exacerbated by the existence now of more subjects, some of which won't have been studied at gcse and/or not 'facilitating'. And I sincerely hope that no school places this limitation on anyone wanting to do further maths!

Bobbybobbins Thu 17-Aug-17 13:03:12

I was sceptical about the introduction of stand alone AS levels initially but I think the advantages ultimately outweighed the negatives. I think the flexibility to start 4 courses then drop to 3 worked well, especially for slightly less mature or focused students who found the step up to A Level difficult. I think it allowed more accurate UCAS predictions - got over confident students to aim more realistically and less confident students who did better than expected at AS to aim high.

SantasLittleMonkeyButler Thu 17-Aug-17 13:03:39

DS2 is awaiting GCSE results next week & is hoping to stay on to take A-Levels at sixth form.

His school are completely abandoning AS Levels from this September, and are just doing three subjects from the outset. It is a bit worrying how they will cope with a student who isn't getting on with a particular subject. It's not as though you can drop a choice at the end of Year 12 & complete an entire new subject in Year 13 is it?

ErrolTheDragon Thu 17-Aug-17 13:06:36

I expect we'll see more students retaking yr 12.

Allthebestnamesareused Thu 17-Aug-17 13:06:40

Our school is dropping AS levels but allowing students to study 4 until Christmas and then dropping one. This is in case they really don't like a subject they haven't studied before such as sociology, psychology, economics, politics.

MEgirl Thu 17-Aug-17 13:52:34

I think that many schools are going to have to offer Year 14 to those who look as though they may not make it through all 3 choices. Both of my DSs are doing Y14 due to medical circumstances. One has repeated his AS maths and will now repeat his A2 Physics. We are fortunate that the school has been understanding and requested extra funding.

Schools are going to have to give students much better advice and possible be much harder on the students which will prevent some kids from taking subjects they like rather than what they are suited to.

From what I remember when we went to re-enroll last year at a different college (though we eventually ended up staying at the same school), the funding criteria has changed so that if a student doesn't do well in the first year of a subject, a school or college may force a change to a new subject as they won't be funded for that student to repeat the subject from the beginning. We saw many distraught students who weren't being allowed to transfer from school/college A to B and re-take the same subject. They were being advised to re-assess their abilities and their future post-KS5 options.

Please correct me if I'm wrong.

EdithWeston Thu 17-Aug-17 13:57:00

I thought the three successive years of public exams was onerous, and am glad to see moves back to the situation where there were just the two.

Universities used to make offers based in predictions, but perhaps with greater weight on O level/GCSE results. I don't have a crystal ball, but do suspect that'll be the way they do it again.

noblegiraffe Thu 17-Aug-17 13:59:29

Hmm that sounds dicey, allthebest, what will they do if loads decide to drop German and they're left with one kid taking it?

I know things were ok back in the day when there were 3 linear subjects, the point is that the 4 to 3 model was better and offered more flexibility.
I'm thinking about some of my Y12s today who will have got Es. They would be the typical '4th subject' candidates who will have benefited from taking some post-16 maths, but who have only taken 3 subjects. I don't know what will happen to them now. Will they be forced to continue maths in Y13 even though they will struggle greatly and possibly fail? Should we have advised them from the start not to take maths - they looked fine on paper and I don't know how we could tell at the start that they would struggle. If they get decent marks in their other subjects then restarting Y12 would be silly for one subject, but they can't drop maths and pick up another AS because we're not offering AS any more.

chantico Thu 17-Aug-17 14:16:22

If you're looking at it from a school policy POV, two possibilities are:

- starting 4 Alevel courses and dropping one
- starting 3 plus an EPQ, so there's somethjng else with points if one of the A levels goes tits up

And yes, closer counselling about A level options is likely to be needed. Do you already have a minimum GCSE mark for going on to A level maths? You could consider setting difference marks/grades to access different subjects depending in just how much if a step up there is.

noblegiraffe Thu 17-Aug-17 14:19:15

The thing is that it's really hard to tell in advance who is going to flunk AS level maths. I've seen kids on B grade GCSE do well and kids with an A* get a U. Effort plays a big roll, but I've seen kids absolutely bust a gut and still fail.

LoniceraJaponica Thu 17-Aug-17 14:32:01

DD's school still did AS exams this year. Starting with 4 was a good choice for her as she discovered that she absolutely hated psychology. She managed to bag an A in it but is pleased that she has now dropped it. She just needs to concentrate on getting 3 As in her remaining subjects now.

Janus Thu 17-Aug-17 14:44:53

My eldest dd has just got her AS level results today and her friends. Most only took 3. One girl has got a U in one so now can't take this next year. My dd got an A B and D despite all predictions being C and one a C/D. I'm glad she's done them so uni won't just look at predictions. She knows exactly why she got a D for one and will make sure she works on this. For me I honestly could not have told you what she would have got before today but assumed it was near predictions. I'm so glad we know she's more capable so she can really push on next year.
Can I just say I think Gove is an utter twat.

MissMillament Thu 17-Aug-17 14:54:50

Our school still does four subjects in Y12 and AS levels. DD got her results today. IMO they have provided a reality check for her that she would not have got otherwise - she did better in the subject she perceived as her 'worst' than in the subject she thinks of as her best and which she wants to continue at university. Now we have the option of really analysing what she needs to do to pull her grades up in that subject and she can have a think about how much of her antipathy to her supposed 'worst' subject was due to the fact that she thought she would do badly in it.

ErrolTheDragon Thu 17-Aug-17 15:14:29

While the 'reality check' can be useful, shouldn't it be possible for schools to manage this (as in the 'old days') with internal exams at the end of yr 12? Less expensive in time and money and far less stressful.

noblegiraffe Thu 17-Aug-17 15:16:57

Kids don't take internal exams seriously and using teacher assessment for predicted grades is problematic as it is notoriously unreliable.

Janus Thu 17-Aug-17 15:31:43

Totally agree Noble, this way feels much more 'real' than sitting and getting a paper marked by your teacher. And as ours predicted much lower grades in 2 that doesn't seem to work either. If dd had to take those predicted grades to a uni she probably wouldn't even get an interview. Now she will.

homebythesea Thu 17-Aug-17 15:49:26

I don't recall this kind of handwringing about A level choice and suitability and potentially retaking years etc when I did mine! How are our teens different? I really don't get it.

End of year 12 exams need to be taken seriously by students - if they can't do that then I'd seriously question their maturity to go on to HE or work. But as I said by not doing the prescribed AS exam teachers have more flexibility in how they teach across the 2 years.

The only advantage of the AS system was that it gave Unis a better prediction based on objective data of likely performance at A2. There's a lot of anecdotal evidence about inflation of predictions prior to that system being introduced, and I'm not sure how that will be prevented this time round. Maybe GCSE will become that bit more important in the weighing up process

noblegiraffe Thu 17-Aug-17 16:05:25

Back in the olden days far fewer students went to uni so the exams weren't so high stakes, individual results didn't matter as much as there were plenty of other options.

And we didn't have the huge amounts of data and accountability for teachers and schools, so it's way more important to schools that we get things right.

BackforGood Thu 17-Aug-17 16:13:50

I'm very glad my dd got to take AS levels (she' just finished Yr13). She was an A / A* student at GCSE, but was totally floored by 2 of the 4 A level subjects she started - the two she's been really keen to take and was originally hoping to take through to University. Fortunately, because her school started everyone off with 4 subjects, she still had her 2 other subjects, and has worked like a trooper this year (with tremendous support from of of the teachers at the school, it must be said), and has got the grades today to go to her first choice. Had they not gone down the AS route (and I know a lot of schools chose not to with this cohort) she'd have been up a creek without a paddle.

EdithWeston Thu 17-Aug-17 16:22:22

"Back in the olden days far fewer students went to uni so the exams weren't so high stakes"

It might have been a smaller number, but for those contemplating that path it was just as high stake.

"individual results didn't matter as much as there were plenty of other options"

They did matter for the individual.

There was however less of a step up for between O level and GCSE because of the differences in syllabus (especially in maths). But you can't go back to when all ''twas fields. You can however put other filters in place for assessing maths aptitude - does your school put pupils in for the UKMT challenges? That can be a good way of taking a different angles on aptitude rather than syllabus-crunching

noblegiraffe Thu 17-Aug-17 16:29:57

If only the academically elite went to uni it makes sense that they would come from the kids who were more secure in their A-level chances.

Maths challenge is not a good way of assessing A-level maths ability. Looking at AS grades from this morning and UKMT scores in the SMC there's not a great correlation.

homebythesea Thu 17-Aug-17 16:36:04

Today 16:29 noblegiraffe

If only the academically elite went to uni it makes sense that they would come from the kids who were more secure in their A-level chances.

Well there we have it in a nutshell. The fact that HE is considered usual not exceptional and degrees are required for the most mundane of jobs has lead to this madness. We need to accept that the academic path is not for everyone (and certainly not for 50% of school leavers) and expand the choices for school leavers either with A levels alone or with good vocational qualifications. But that's going a bit off piste for this particular thread

Sadik Thu 17-Aug-17 17:14:06

"I don't recall this kind of handwringing about A level choice and suitability and potentially retaking years etc when I did mine! "

I think a lot of us ended up narrowing our choices dramatically at age 16 though. I would have really benefitted from the option to start 4 A levels, and might have taken a different degree route.

We're in Wales where ASs are still part of A levels, and it seems as though from early indications (dd in yr 10) our local 6th form college is happy for students to start with 4. Since dd enjoys both the life sciences and physics /maths, the option to do all 3 sciences + maths is one she might find really useful. (Or Phys/Chem/Maths/FM if she decides to lean that way - she is pretty certain about wanting to study Chemistry A level)

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