Monday 24 March 2014

The ever changing education system.

Here I am again about two months too late. Once more life seems to get in the way of any kind of sensible writing (if you can call this sensible) and quiet.

In approximately 8 weeks our eldest son, Ben, will sit his A levels (or A2s as they are sometimes referred to here). It is quite mind blowing that his first, and last, two years in school are nearing an end. How he has fared I will leave for another post, perhaps I'll ask him to write one, if I can catch him at home for long enough once he's 'free' again!

Much to my surprise (and to be honest, relief) the A levels are yet again, being reformed. From September 2015 the A level course will be linear; assessment only after two years, rather like it was when I did my A levels all those years ago.  The AS level will be retained but will be a qualification in itself and so one can no longer go and and complete a second year and turn it into an A level as Ben has done.

Additionally there is no longer any January exams available. Ben has decided to re-sit one Unit of his first year and instead of being able to do this in January just past, he has had to add it to his final exams which has caused some extra pressure and worry. (More on my part it must be said but then is it not a Mother's job to worry?)

Are these sensible and beneficial changes? I feel more at ease with two years for A levels with no break for exams after what is really about 6 months. When Ben went into sixth form to study A levels, he found himself after five tender months being told to begin preparing and revising for the summer exams. It is much to take on and most students (especially having gone from GCSEs which they do in schools and are a poorer standard than the IGCSEs) have a tremendous shock at the work load and the standard required of them to pass these exams well.
Here the home educated student is at an advantage- they have already learnt to work independently and do not need constant guidance in their research and learning. The depth of learning and requirements is a huge  difference for A levels- the schooled child suddenly finds they are no longer spoon fed but feeding themselves.

So reforming the A levels to a two year course seems a good option to me. It allows the student to master their subject more deeply and become proficient at answering the exam questions and learning content more assiduously without the constant reminder of threatening exams after only a few months.

A levels remain well respected for their rigour and Universities require them and prefer them to other qualifications. If your student is seriously considering University, especially a Russell Group one, then it might be worth considering the more traditional A levels rather than the 'soft' options.

It feels like yesterday when Ben made his debut into school for the first time ever. Now he is nearing the end and will, after a year doing some voluntary work and seeing the world, enter a new phase of his life; most probably University and I'm sure there will be a tale to tell about that too...

May the most Holy Family keep all our dear children ever in their prayers, and guide and govern them in their studies with discernment and good judgement.


  1. Interesting! I had not taken on board quite how much A levels are changing. I knew about the restrictions on retakes, but did not realise they were going back to only taking exams after two years, which I agree is better - more time for learning and less taken up with constant exam prep. My about-to-be-sixth-form daughter has opted to take the International Baccalaureate instead of A levels, which seems to be the one qualification considered to be at least as good. The IB does not have any exams in the first year, just a set in May of the second year, and this is one of the things I like about it. I also like the fact that it seems to be a different type of learning. When we went to look round the school H wants to go to we were both very impressed by the enthusiasm of the IB students - as one put it, "A levels teach you to know, the IB teaches you to think". It is going to be very interesting to see how the different style of course works out in practice, and how it compares to both traditional A levels (my experience) and the current A level system (eldest daughter's experience). I wonder whether the different style of the IB, with its broader spread of subjects and emphasis on more independent thought might make it a good option for previously homeschooled kids? Best of luck to Ben with his exams!

    1. Thank you so much for this very interesting comment. Funnily enough I was always very keen on the IB for Ben but could not find an appropriate school (near by!) for him to take it. I agree it has an equal standing to A levels and I have heard the IB taught at somewhere like St Edward's, Oxford, is outstanding. I much prefer the emphasis taken from constant exam prep to proper room for learning and expanding, it's just a shame that Ben hasn't experienced this. Best of luck to H with the IB, do let us know how she enjoys it. God Bless.

  2. I still think children are spoon Fed at A level, just not as much. The jump from A level to degree level is just as great as GCSE to A level. Having been home educated neither of my elder children found the independent learning hard, but many of their friends did.
    God Bless

    1. I think it depends upon which school/college the child attends. Ben's school doesn't offer any 'extra' help and they are definitely left to their own devices, so much so, that quite a few children dropped out in the first few weeks. God Bless.

  3. Great post! Thanks for bringing our attention to these changes. For more information on what the powers-that-be are planning, there is a fairly useful roundup here: