Changes to A Levels: What about the subjects that are not deemed facilitating?


The Russell Group of Universities have identified a selection of A Level subjects they refer to as “facilitating” subjects. It is these subjects that Michael Gove proposes (22nd Jan 2013) will be re-designed (including the change to a 2 year course with exams at the end of this time) for first teaching 2015 (see letter to OfQual including list of subjects).

A dictionary definition of the term “facilitating” is:

  1. “to make easier or less difficult; help forward (an action, a process, etc)
  2. to assist the progress of (a person)”.

In my opinion identifying these subjects to be re-developed first, and risking a two-tiered system for A Level coming into play in the awkward interim period come 2015 (see 1994 University group’s comments on this), appears rooted in making a select few universities selection process and entry criteria “easier or less difficult” to manage, rather than assisting the progress of (all) A Level students who take these qualifications.

A Level Psychology

As a teacher of a subject not deemed to be “facilitating” I am left wondering whether the broad range of students that choose my subject will change. I also wonder whether all of the work of the BPS in terms of ensuring that Psychology is recognised as being part of the Sciences is being jeopardised. Those students with high average GCSE point scores will clearly be directed to the “new” A Levels.

Psychology remains an incredibly popular A Level choice that has so much potential to develop skills and impart knowledge that are useful and enriching beyond the A Level itself. I’m not arguing that Psychology is any more “facilitating” than any other subject but rather I am trying to highlight that singling out these other subjects and implying that they are superior lacks validity and is potentially damaging.

Left in the dark

I cannot believe that anyone would think it a good idea to come up with a partial plan for the changes to A Levels and start implementing these changes without having a clear direction for the future of all subjects, so I can’t help feeling that important information is being withheld.

I thought the idea of the consultation process and redevelopment was to involve teachers as well as universities, yet I feel (like everyone else I would imagine) left in the dark with more questions about the reforms than answers. If the idea is to use these “facilitating subjects” to see how it goes and to act as a trial run before investing effort in all the A Levels, it would seem an irresponsible approach given that we are talking about students futures here. I feel for the student who come 2015 might be studying Maths and History with one style of course and Psychology with a completely different style. Doesn’t this piecemeal plan for change also potentially make for more confusion for universities who may regard the perhaps “more rigorous” new 2 year A Level grade as more indicative of  a student’s potential than the old one, making grades more difficult to use to compare student’s performance in this time.

Jumping the gun

I think any changes and any input of the “advisory groups” should be put on hold until a full schedule for changes to all subjects is published. If no such schedule has been identified then the changes should be shelved. At the very least teachers and students should be advised how the interim system will be managed and any negative impact avoided.


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