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Study A level maths at home to free up time for other subjects at school?

(75 Posts)
Star555 Sun 03-Nov-19 14:55:30

DS is very bright and motivated and studies advanced maths (A level content) at home during GCSE years, does very well in maths olympiad, etc. He is going to a top independent school with a 6th form which offers a plethora of A level subjects that interest him. At his school usually bright students who want to pursue science/engineering at uni will take up to 5 A level subjects, 2 of which will be maths and further maths. DS thinks using up 2 slots for maths/FM will be a waste of time since he already knows most of the material now and can just revise for the exams at home on his own in the coming years, and maths doesn't involve practical work, trips to historic sites, etc that he would be missing out on. (I myself have postgraduate degree in engineering and can guide him in maths if need be.) He is very interested in humanities as well as science so his ideal A level subject choices at school would be Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science, Latin, and History. Does this sound like a feasible idea? Should I let his school know in advance that he will revise for the maths/FM exams at home and just take the exam at the end? Is there a chance the school may look unfavourably upon this and insist he must do maths at school to take the A level exams? In general is it common for students at top schools to take A level exams for subjects they studied at home instead of in school, assuming there was no coursework requirement for the A level? Thank you for any advice.

OP’s posts: |
RedskyToNight Sun 03-Nov-19 15:10:03

My first response to your post is, regardless of whether the school allows it, why on earth would you want to? He will not need more than Maths + FM + 2 other A Levels for anything he wants to do in later life. If he's interested in studying the other subjects out of general interest, then why not keep this to a hobby, that can be picked up and dropped as wanted?

7 A Levels seems like an insane amount of work. Even the 5 at school seems insane enough (the school doubtless allows 5 including maths, FM and science as there is such a lot of overlap between them -there isn't that much overlap between the 5 you've listed and 2 of them are essay subjects!) Even if he is gifted mathematically, he will need to put a reasonable amount of effort in to keep the maths ticking over - there is a certain amount of stuff you just need to "know". And (knowing how hard I'm finding to support my DS through GCSE maths with my maths degree and doctorate), I would not assume that you will find it very easy to help him at home, if you've not studied for a while and probably not used a lot of the maths for longer!

SarahLovesMarmite Sun 03-Nov-19 15:19:35

What does your son want to study at university? That's what you need to focus on, so have a look at possible institutions and courses and see what they demand for entry. It won't be seven A-levels, believe me; most will be very happy with three good ones (though I concede Further Maths is often seen as a fourth option and there is a reason for doing that if you want to do a related degree).
I don't see what advantage you are giving your child by encouraging them to do seven A-levels! They will have no time for anything else outside school. The experience of a part-time job and a social life are also useful things that help grow a teenager into a rounded, happy and well-functioning person.

Ironoaks Sun 03-Nov-19 15:31:30

It is difficult for some young people to narrow their choices down, but I don't think there's anything to be gained from studying 7 A-levels.

DS is studying four Maths / Science A-levels, is bright ( predicted 4xA* ) and the workload is about right.

He started studying Latin AS independently (supported by the head of department at lunchtimes) but by the Christmas of Y12 realised it was not sustainable. I would be concerned about choosing Maths as the one to learn independently, as if this has to be dropped then it narrows post-18 options too much.

DS still has time for his hobbies and relaxation, but I wouldn't want him to be spending more time working than he is now.

If there is a school near you that does the International Baccalaureate then that might be the way forward.

helpmum2003 Sun 03-Nov-19 15:34:47

I would agree 5 max or IB which gives a real breadth. I would encourage non academic activities in addition.

Star555 Sun 03-Nov-19 15:35:30

Thank you, @RedskyToNight! Yes, you are right that he is generally very interested in humanities subjects. He wants to benefit from the structure, guidance from teachers and opportunities for trips, etc that being enrolled in Latin and History A level classes could offer. It makes him very sad to think that if he did maths/FM at school he would be missing out on the full range of exciting history or Latin lessons offering the interactive experience of discussions and trips with friends, and learning from a history/Latin specialist teacher. He just feels that school has nothing extra or special to offer him in maths that he doesn't know already/can't revise on his own with perhaps some pointers from me (and maths is a "dry" subject in that sense). Ideally, if he could just fully participate in these humanities classes without taking the A level exam he would be perfectly happy! He realises that at uni he will no longer be able to take these humanities classes (unlike at American unis for example but he wants to go to Oxbridge here rather than US unis which he doesn't think will culturally fit him well). So he wants to make the most of his time at school, because at uni he will have plenty of maths/science subjects but no more humanities.

OP’s posts: |
helpmum2003 Sun 03-Nov-19 15:38:01

Also to add you need to discuss with potential school.

Ironoaks Sun 03-Nov-19 15:43:09

He could take 4-5 from Maths / F.Maths / Physics / Chemistry / Computer Science, then add in some online courses (e.g. MOOC) in Latin and/or History.

At some universites you can study e.g. Physics or Engineering while also choosing one module each semester from another discipline. e.g. Warwick

HugoSpritz Sun 03-Nov-19 15:44:57

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ColdRainAgain Sun 03-Nov-19 15:46:24

What uni courses is he interested in? Are any likely to specify Maths in the offer (I did 5 A Levels, some uni offers came stating which A levels I could use for admission), and is doing maths independently likely to cause an issue?

HugoSpritz Sun 03-Nov-19 15:46:58

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Ironoaks Sun 03-Nov-19 15:47:34

If he is set on Oxbridge then there wouldn't be space in the timetable to study humanities with a science degree, as the terms are short and time-intensive e.g. I believe Natural Sciences at Cambridge is a pretty full timetable Mon-Sat.

ladyvimes Sun 03-Nov-19 15:52:45

Yeah maths and further maths are so easy. Why bother having any teachers qualified in those subjects for a level when the kids can just learn them at home?
And 7 a’levels? Seriously?
Bloody stupid thread!

AnotherNewt Sun 03-Nov-19 15:54:54

Are you really sure the school is offering that many A levels these days?

And that maths/FM would count as two in the options blocks?

If aiming for Oxbridge/Imperial etc, you need only 3 A levels though many candidate offer 4 as they've done double maths.

I suggest he ditches comp sci, and does FM/maths, physics and chemistry A levels and if school offers it an EPQ on some form of history of science. Depending on the university/course, he might have to take maths aptitude tests or STEP as well - how is prep for those managed in his school? How would you prep if not done in school?

Computing can be taken forward in a school coding club (have him found it, if there isn't one) and in various hackathon and cipher challenges.

Debating in the school debating society (there's bound to be one, probably a history one too)

HuaShan Sun 03-Nov-19 15:56:28

I would agree there is nothing to be gained by doing more than 4 A levels and it would be an insane amount of work. What does he want to study at university? Perhaps he would benefit more from expanding his subject interest outside the curriculum? If he wants Oxbridge then they want to see breadth and passion in the subject being studied not across disciplines. DS is doing 4 and manages the workload well partly because he doesn't struggle with Maths/FM. In the last year though he has learned more from his part tine job than anything else. Maybe your DS could look for lectures or opportunities in h8s chosen subjects to fill his intetests.

I think it also might nor be straightforward you helping him with Maths! My DH has a Doctorate in Engineering, still works as an engineer and has a love for Mathematical problems. He says that by Y13 DS had probably overtaken him.

YesThisIsMe Sun 03-Nov-19 16:08:50

5 A levels along with external study for the two maths is madness. 3 in school plus the two maths might be doable but you’d need to have the maths teachers’ agreement to help him out if he did happen to get stuck on a particular topic. This plan only makes sense if he could absolutely guarantee two A*s on the maths papers, so there’s no room for error.

Oxford Maths and philosophy sounds like a subject well worth your DS looking into though. University College London is worth looking into for its flexibility with mix and match modules within a standard degree.

Ethelswith Sun 03-Nov-19 16:11:18

Remember the new linear A levels came in across the board only in 2017, so those who took exams this summer just gone were the first on this spec.

Many schools which used to let pupils sit 5 (6 with FM) have changed to 3 (4 with FM). This is in line with university entrance requirements. It sounds really unlikely that any school still allows more than 4, and even those with the most academic reputations are at that number. So re-check what the current school is really supporting now.

Have you ever considered moving him for Sixth Form? It really does sound as if he wouid be way more suited to an IB school.

Star555 Sun 03-Nov-19 16:26:28

Thank you all for your replies! He wants to do applied physics or engineering, and is pretty set on Oxbridge. I completely agree that taking 7 A level exams in one year would be ridiculously stressful, and I would definitely encourage him to take the maths+FM exams a year or two early if he went the home study route. Oxbridge certainly doesn't require their science/engineering candidates to have stellar humanities A levels, but for DS it's not a question of requirements or impressing unis. As I said above, he wants to make the most of his last chance to formally study humanities because as rightly noted by some above, Oxbridge timetables will not leave any room! If he could he would skip the A level maths exams altogether because he will already have learnt the material thanks to his interest in maths at home, maths olympiad competions etc. But he needs to show A level maths results for uni, so there's no avoiding those exams.

The point is that he says if he takes Maths and FM (2 blocks) at school, it will be a waste of time since he already will know the material (I agree). Theoretically if he could fill that time with coding club or debating club for example, that would be great. But clubs don;t happen until after the school day (extra time). Also MOOCs can be good but live classroom teaching and interaction is much better when there is a choice. So we are stuck with the problem of how to fill 2 blocks of school time instead of M+FM. His wish is to fill them with humanities subjects. And take M+FM exams (because of Oxbridge requirement) the previous year based on thorough home study.

One option might be to let him do the humanities classes at school "for fun" but not actually do the exams at the end (that would take a lot of stress off). That way he could get the learning and enrichment experiences he craves while not worrying about his exam marks. Is it completely unheard of to do this? Effectively it's a pre-planned route of taking a subject and deciding to drop it at the very end so as not to take the exam. So he would take Maths+FM exams in year 12 based on home study, then take Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science in year 13 based on school study while also participating in Latin/History class at school but not taking those exams.

OP’s posts: |
Star555 Sun 03-Nov-19 16:28:39

Also, he is not interested in IB and loves his current school, and would be sad to move for sixth form. The school definitely allows 5 A levels, I have confirmed.

OP’s posts: |
noblegiraffe Sun 03-Nov-19 16:43:13

Does this sound like a feasible idea?

No, it sounds like a daft idea. What year is he currently in?

Lemonademouth Sun 03-Nov-19 16:51:20

Is he at an independent school? I only ask because a state school would not receive funding for 5 A levels and would definitely not recommend or timetable seven. All totally unnecessary. I am sure the world knows your son is bright without needing to tell people he is doing 7 A levels. Let him have a life.

YesThisIsMe Sun 03-Nov-19 16:59:09

If he did three A levels at school and the 2 maths at home then he could fill the additional time blocks in the school day by doing his A level homework to an excellent standard - thus leaving time outside of school free for maths, clubs, EPQ or paid or voluntary work. Even at the most high performing schools there will be many Y13s doing only 3 A levels.

DrDeluxe Sun 03-Nov-19 17:00:40

Why is it his last chance to study humanities formally? What about lifelong learning? There are loads of opportunities to pick up humanities later in your life and go on even more exciting trips backed by the cash you have earned from being a top engineer. Education and learning do not end at school.

Even at Cambridge you can combine History and Philosophy of Science with Physics and Maths.

Other universities, particularly Scottish ones, have options to do modules other than your main subject. Plus maybe he could do an EPQ focusing on History.

HuaShan Sun 03-Nov-19 17:10:33

He also needs to be mindful that Oxbridge don't like early A levels, particularly Maths (because a young person will stop studying it for a year and that is frowned upon). We researched this carefully as ds took his Maths AS in Y 10 for fun and quickly realised there was no benefit and quite a few disadvantages to taking the A level early. Also be careful as Universities only look at A levels taken in one sitting. So Physics, Computer Science and Chemistry all taken in one year might not qualify him for a Physics degree where the requirements are Maths FM and Pysics. Ask admissions tutors for clarity.

OhYouBadBadKitten Sun 03-Nov-19 17:27:27

I wouldn't be impressed with a 'top independent school' that couldn't keep advancing him in maths.

You are talking about keeping him ticking over in it. If he is going to go down an engineering or physics route then this is a real waste of his talent. Maths and Physics are the two absolute core subjects he will need to really develop - especially if he is thinking about Oxbridge. He also isn't demonstrating a love of these subjects if he just wants to despatch them asap during is A levels.

If he does well in Olympiads, how well is well? Can he develop that further? Take part in physics olympiads etc etc. That's the sort of thing that will help him develop the skills that are useful for Oxbridge.

If he wants to stay well rounded I'm wondering if he should look at an entirely different university option and look at the Scottish system or the US.

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