Like GCSEs, A-levels are also changing, and like GCSEs, some of the changes aren’t as straightforward as you might hope. For pupils who started year 12 in 2015, they will already have done a year of the new qualifications in some subjects, while others are starting this year, with the final batch beginning in September 2017.
What are the main changes?
A lot of the individual syllabi will now be different, but the most significant changes to the overall structure of A-levels are as follows:
- Under the old system, AS-level exams taken in May/June of Year 12 would contribute 50% of the grade to your final, overall A-level qualification
- In the new system, ALL A-LEVEL EXAMS will take place at the end of Year 13, and marks from AS-levels – if you take any – will not contribute to your final grade
- Unlike in the new GCSEs, A-level grades will remain on the current A*-E grade scale
- As with the new GCSEs, there will be less coursework and fewer practical assessments than previously, putting a greater emphasis on those all-important final exams
What about AS-levels?
- AS results will no longer count towards your final A-level grade, but can be taken as a separate stand-alone qualification at the end of Year 12
- You can still take an AS-level in any subject, then either drop or continue it at the end of Year 12 – but for subjects that are still currently on the old system, students will still have AS-levels until they adopt the new specifications
- There is no onus on schools or pupils to take AS-levels: the benefit of taking them is that they can measure your progress, help teachers assess your predicted grades and give universities a better idea of your credentials
- However, not doing AS-levels can free up more teaching time, allowing students to go into greater depth on the A-level syllabus, and provide a year off from the stress and intensity of sitting exams, between the inevitable pressure of GCSEs in Year 11 and A-levels in Year 13
- Different schools will be dealing with this in different ways. If you’re not sure, get in contact with the school and find out if they are offering AS-levels for every subject, and whether they’re optional or compulsory
- Because of the likely discrepancy between schools, the likelihood is that universities will now place MORE emphasis on GCSE grades when making conditional offers
However, in Wales AS-levels will continue to be part of the A-level, with Year 12 results counting for 40% of the final grade, and A-level results in Year 13 counting for 60%. The situation is likely to be the same in Northern Ireland.
When are the changes happening?
Some of the new specifications have already been introduced. Teaching for the following subjects began in September 2015, with the first new A-levels being taken May-June, 2017:
Art and design
English language and literature
Students starting Year 12 in September 2016 will be the first to take the new A-levels in:
Ancient Languages (Greek/Latin)
Modern Languages (French, Spanish etc)
And the last batch of new A-levels will be introduced in September 2017:
Maths and further maths
Design and technology
Likely to include as-yet unconfirmed subjects Politics and Law
Exam boards have had to change their A-levels to align them with the new government specifications, meaning that certain subjects may no longer be offered, while others will be offered for the first time. A full list of new OCR and AQA AS and A-level specifications, and when they come into effect, can be found here:
The Department for Education has released extensive guidelines for each A-level subject, detailing the aims, requirements, level conditions and assessment objectives. Usually, the syllabus can be found under the ‘Subject Content’ section of the document.
We have provided the link to each relevant document where all the information can be found. If you are still not sure about the significance of the changes, you can always get in touch with your child’s school to find out more, or even call the exam board directly, as the syllabus may differ slightly between boards.
A full list of the A-level subjects and requirements can be found here
A brief individual summary of the assessment objectives for new A-levels (and GCSES) can be found on this page.