A-Levels explained

A-level students

A-levels and AS-levels are set to become entirely separate qualifications in England within the next three years. Find out what the new system will mean for your children

What are the key changes to A-levels?

  • Under the new system, AS results will no longer count towards A-level grades.
  • Students will sit all A-level exams at the end of two years of study, instead of taking modular exams throughout the course.
  • No subject will have more than a 20% coursework component, and the majority of courses will be assessed entirely through exams.
  • Resits will still be available, but January exams will be scrapped, so students will have to wait until May/June of the following year for a chance to improve their grades.

What are the key changes to AS-levels?

  • AS-levels will continue to exist as a stand-alone qualification, earning 40% of the UCAS points awarded for an A-level (students still taking 'old-style' AS-levels over the next year in subjects which have not yet moved to the new system will continue to receive 50% of the UCAS points of an A-level).
  • New AS and A-level syllabuses have been designed to be 'co-teachable'. This means that students who have opted to take the AS-level will have covered the necessary material to continue on to A-level in year 13 if they so wish.
  • Grades will continue to be awarded on an A*-E scale for A-level and A-E for AS-level.
  • In Wales and Northern Ireland, AS-levels will continue to count towards an overall A-level mark. Welsh students' AS marks will count for 40% of the overall A-level mark. This will probably be the case in Northern Ireland as well, although this has not yet been confirmed.

When will these changes be introduced?

  • Current A/AS-level students may already be taking courses under the new system, as a number of subjects (including English, modern foreign languages, geography and the sciences) are already being taught according to new specifications.
  • All remaining subjects will transfer to the reformed qualifications for teaching from September 2017.
  • In simpler terms, this means that:
  • Current year 11 students and below will be taking the new A/AS-levels across all subjects.
  • Current year 12 and year 13 students are likely to take courses under both systems.

Will students still have to take AS-levels?

“The AS may as well no longer exist,” suggests one Mumsnetter. “It's a pointless qualification under the new scheme.” Is she right?
The truth is that nobody really knows whether AS-levels will continue to be valued as qualifications, or even whether they will continue to be offered widely by schools and colleges beyond the initial transition period.

  • At the moment, schools and colleges are responding in a variety of different ways:
  • Some will continue to enroll all students for both AS-levels and A-levels, as if nothing has changed.
  • Others will no longer offer AS qualifications at all.
  • Some may offer AS qualifications over two years, which students can take at the same time as their A-levels in subjects they are not as confident in, in order to bolster their UCAS scores.

The pros and cons of new style AS-levels – Mumsnetters discuss

“It means decisions over which [subjects] to drop in year 13 can be based on results, rather than making the decision in March before exam entries are finalised. It also means students are applying to university with at least some more recent evidence of ability, rather than universities relying purely on predictions, which can be over-optimistic.”
“The advantage of not doing the AS is that the whole of the first year can be spent getting to grips with the subjects without having to worry about stopping early for revision and honing exam technique.”

What do I need to ask my child's school or college?

If you're deciding where to send your son or daughter for sixth form and are confused by these changes, these questions might be a good starting point:

  • Will the school/college continue to offer AS-levels as well as A-levels?
  • Will AS-levels be compulsory for students enrolled on an A-level course?
  • Will my child have to decide in advance which subjects they wish to take to AS-level and which they will continue to A-level, or will there be some flexibility to decide once the course has begun?