How to Deal with A-Level Reform Successfully – by John Philip

12 April, 2016

A short exploration of how to deal with A Level reform successfully.

For good or ill, Y12 (Y1) have set sail on course to linear A levels in some subjects. Hopefully you have made the right decisions for your students whilst they take a mixture of new linear and legacy modular exams.

Have you started students on 3 or 4 subjects – or some on 3 and some on 4? Mary Curnock Cook (UCAS) has warned that ‘students who revert to the pre-2000, 3 A Level curriculum, might experience worse outcomes simply from making the wrong choices of subjects’. If students are only taking 3, they really must be the right ones. Use the few weeks before submitting the October census to make certain that they are.

Helpfully you are also discussing which subjects to drop with students moving into Y13 (Y2). How many who took 4 AS did too poorly in 1 AS to take it through to A Level? Ask them whether their discontinued AS was their ‘4th choice’ when recruited or at the start of Y12.

Then consider how far A Level teaching and assessment may need to adapt to enable students to cope with linear A Levels.

I suggest departments aim to teach the ‘co-teachable’ AS content first and complete that by Easter of Y12 even if you don’t intend using standalone AS exams. It may be that students who are struggling may need to be entered for one or all subjects. The alternative might be that they leave at the end of Y12 with nothing. Some high achieving students may wish to be entered if they are intending to apply to prestigious universities that have strongly encouraged the continued use of AS.

It is worth considering teaching the ‘co-teachable’ AS content to A Level standard in Y12 even if entering candidates for standalones. A more precise focus on preparation for the simpler AS could take place from March / April in Y12.

By the end of Y13 in 2017, students will need to be able to remember all the crucial skills and knowledge taught during two years of study. How many opportunities will they need to re-visit topics and re-practice tackling the types of questions they will face?

Consider carefully what your Sixth Form monitoring and assessment calendar will look like in 2015-16 and 2016-17. Remember May 2016 will still be ‘exam city’ in terms of modular AS whether you use the standalone AS exams or not and you will need robust assessments in the ‘linear’ subjects if not using the standalones and even in May 2017 there will still be significant disruption to teaching while the remaining legacy AS modular exams are sat.

Finally don’t forget the students! Try to ensure teachers have produced student facing materials such as Learning checklists / content guides to enable them to understand the course and evaluate their own progress.

At Alps we want to help you through these challenging times. Keep in touch and keep the students at the heart of your decision making process.

About the Author
John is a national trainer who specialises in leadership and maximising achievement at KS5. He also works as a senior consultant and gives feedback to schools and LAs on the quality of post-16 provision. John has written numerous articles, and his ‘99 Ideas to Raise Achievement at KS5’ draws on his four decades of experience in sixth forms.

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