A paid contribution by our friends over at Rochester Independent College. We think this is a useful and interesting article for all our readers and are happy to publish.
This article is the first of an ongoing series of my thoughts on the path of education many students face. In this post, I’ll be taking a look at A-Levels - what their purpose is, how they function and whether or not they need to see change...
What are they?
‘Advanced level qualifications’ - or as they are better known, A-Levels - are a series of qualifications students will often take prior to further study at university, entering the world of work or further qualifications and training. It’s usual for most students to complete them between the ages of 16 and 18 in two separate sections - the ‘AS’ and ‘A2’ levels respectively.
Are they important?
As a general rule, it is likely that A-Levels (or their equivalent) will be required for you to pursue a course or degree at most universities. Over 88% of students that were accepted on to higher education in 2016 applied with A-levels. They might contribute to your ‘UCAS score’, be expected in your application’s portfolio, or fit alongside other potential entry requirements. Said requirements may differ based on the subject you're looking to study, or the specific university you’re looking to attend.
How are they graded?
In a similar fashion to GCSEs, A-Levels are graded from A*-E. For the purposes of university applications, these grades will then be converted into UCAS points, with higher grades resulting in more points.
It’s also important to note that the two separate sections of AS and A2 are stand-alone qualifications. The results of your AS will not contribute towards your A-level grades.
If you don’t quite make the grades you’re needing for your preferred course/university, you’ll have a number of options available, such as:
Do they need change?
The government clearly thought so around 2012. Michael Gove, who was Education Secretary at the time, announced a series of reforms that were designed to make the exams more "fit for purpose". This was following an Ofqual report on how suitable the 2012 system of A-Levels had been functioning. Reflecting on where we are in 2020, this discussion on the suitability of A-Levels has raged on. Some are happy with the government’s reforms, whereas others are calling for them to be scrapped entirely.
Such debate has undoubtedly been compounded by the effect of COVID-19 on the education of this current generation of students. Exams have been called off, with predicted grades being used as a substitute. Some students may be relieved with this decision, but I’m sure that many are frustrated that they will not have had the opportunity to put years of study and revision into practice with the aims of going above their current predictions. From my own experience, my predicted A-Levels differed from my final results by a small margin in a number of my exams. Whilst this might not seem like a lot on paper, these small differences can be the difference maker when applying for competitive courses or universities.
Finally (and again reflecting on my own experience), the remark process can feel like a bit of a lottery for students. It wasn’t uncommon to hear stories of others in my cohort having their results jump by two grades - or more - when requesting a remark of their exams. With this degree of error and/or interpretation for such vital exams, do we need to rethink how markers are being equipped to effectively mark papers, rather than just what is going into them for students to complete? More than 50% have reported being under extensive stress in their role and just 25% believe they’re getting paid proportionally for their work.
With alternative qualifications becoming increasingly advertised to students (and even UK schools looking to explore alternatives), the future of A-Level study could well be in for another review - especially given the extraordinary measures that have been taken as a result of COVID-19. It will be imperative to monitor, evaluate and most importantly consult the students that have been personally affected by these disruptions.
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