Plymouth College headmaster looks at A level system reform

Headmaster Jonathan Standen with students at Plymouth College

Headmaster Jonathan Standen with students at Plymouth College - Credit: Archant

Jonathan Standen, headmaster of Plymouth College, looks at reforms to the A level system which come into effect this month

Sixth Form students at Plymouth College

Sixth Form students at Plymouth College - Credit: Archant

This September sees the biggest change to the A level system in almost 10 years.

The previous modular-style course, with the AS level examination at the end of the Lower Sixth counting towards the end grade, is being replaced with one set of examinations at the end of the Upper Sixth.

There have been calls to review the system, which has seen the number of pupils achieving top grades increase year on year, to make the qualification ‘tougher’. As well as changes to the examination process, coursework and controlled assessment will be reduced.

The reforms will be introduced over the next couple of years, with the old and the new running alongside each other until all students follow the new A level programme in three-years’ time.

Plymouth College topped a league table in Plymouth for the highest average point score at A level this year.

Headmaster, Jonathan Standen, believes that the reforms will offer students more study time, which ultimately will be better preparation for the examinations at the end of two years.

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“Inevitably change always brings with it an element of uncertainty,” said Jonathan.

“It is true that students will have to approach their studies differently, but the new system will take the pressure off preparing for exams so early on, giving more time for study. Our students will continue to have a broad choice of subjects and take four AS exams, but they will act more of a marker allowing students to re-assess their academic efforts leading to the exams at the end of the second year.

“What won’t change is the extensive range of A level subjects we offer and the flexibility for students to study the combination of their choice. We spend a great deal of time each year building a model to suit students’ options.”

Plymouth College also runs the International Baccalaureate Diploma in the Sixth Form and has seen a steady growth in students taking up the course since the school became an IB World School in 2008.

Its structure of a single set of exams at the end of the second year will now bring the Diploma more in line with A levels.

“The IB is less well known than A Levels in the UK and therefore lacks familiarity for students,” continues Jonathan. “It is not as widely available because of the funding required to run it and many institutions just can’t afford it.

“Its reputation for being ‘harder’ is somewhat misplaced but because students have to study six subjects plus three core elements, they do require good time management skills. The core elements – Theory of Knowledge, Extended Essay and Community, Action, Service – help students to develop skills in independent learning and research, which is very good preparation for university.

“The IB also has a higher UCAS tariff than A levels and is recognised by universities around the world, giving students access to the top institutions on a global scale.

“It will be interesting to see if the changes to A levels have any impact on the numbers signing up for the IB. I think the appeal of studying and sitting exams in just three subjects will remain strong but the new A level system is flagging up the alternatives and encouraging students who might like the idea of a broader remit to their studies, to look more closely at courses such as the IB.”


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