Sometimes it’s a good thing to be both a teacher and a parent. You understand how to get the best out of revision time for your child. You can see through those little white lies at parent’s evening (and equally have a proper understanding of how knackered that young teacher you’re talking to is). You pretty much know the truth of what lies underneath newspaper headlines and refuse to accept that some subjects are ‘better’ than others. You steer your child through as best you can on your inside track. But every now and then something happens where you are as bewildered as anyone. This is such a time.
I’m sorry for pushing another ‘my child’ story down your necks. This middle one will leave home in a couple of years and then I’ll only have one to moan about. Bear with me. He’s in the middle of the most mental GCSE period our kids have ever seen – some sitting between 24 and 32 exams in the space of a couple of weeks. And that’s set to get worse. But now, holy cow, he’s going to college.
He’s doomed to be on the scrapheap of wasted talent and economic resource as it is because he loves Art. And after that he loves English. And he fancies trying Philosophy. So already, according to Nicky Morgan, he might as well be euthanised.
For those of you who don’t know, this year the government have decided for their next trick that they’ll uncouple AS levels from A Levels. They are separate (sort of – see below). But they’re not really because the content for the AS is still half of the A Level. It’s just that if you want to do the AS, you’ll sit the AS exam, but then if you want to do the A Level, you’ll have to sit all the content you revised for that exam all over again. Your original AS level will count for diddly squat.
He wants to do four subjects but he’s not sure what he’ll drop, so to be on the safe side he’ll take AS levels in all four. The college he is attending is insisting that all pupils do this anyway to keep their options open, even though they have to make huge budget cuts and not doing AS levels would save a LOT of money. They’ve made a decision that their students would be better off with a set of grades on their UCAS application forms and a broader range of subjects in Year 12. Down the road, another college is dropping AS levels altogether and insisting that kids choose their three now. Another college is letting kids choose. The difference between colleges is marked and yet most pupils have no idea that these changes are taking place or that different places are taking different decisions. If I was a parent I’d be outraged. Oh, wait, I am.
Apparently, according to twitter, it’s even more complicated than that because some subjects are not having AS and A level uncoupled yet. And some are. But we as parents and he, as a child, have no idea which subjects are which even though my husband works in the place he’s going to. If even the teachers are confused how on earth are the students supposed to make informed decisions?
I hark back to when I taught the old legacy A Level – the linear 2 year A Level that ended in 2000. I loved it. We didn’t touch the syllabus until well into the summer term of Year 12. Before that we built a strong foundation of knowledge and experience that went way beyond the syllabus and into a passion for the subject. It was a wonderful freedom and I think greatly enhanced results. But I understood when things changed that there were strong benefits for some pupils – those who might go through two years of a course and fail. Or those who might decide after one year that they’d had enough but still leave with qualifications. I got it and on balance thought the change to AS/A Level was a good one. But this is neither one nor the other.
Under the ancient old system, he’d have Year 12 free of exams. Under the newly old system, he’d have Year 12 with exams, but would have bagged half of his A Levels. Under this rancid new system, he’ll have a Year 12 of exams. And then another year of the same exams because the scores from the first year won’t count. How is that fair in anyone’s mind?
Pity the poor admissions tutor at university. From the same town, even in some cases from the same college, he or she receives applications where some students have AS grades and some predicted grades. Will the predicated grade be inflated? Is a bird in the hand worth two in the bush? Or will that C at AS (that belies the fact that the kid has really worked hard to improve and will probably end up with an A) sully their chances of an offer? Will universities (as Cambridge have suggested) move to their own assessment/selection systems? What a mess.
Eldest child chose 4 AS subjects. His 3 ‘preferred’ were History, Maths and Philosophy. But he added English Lit as a fourth, figuring he’d drop it at the end of the year. He’s just graduated from Oxford University with a degree in English. He dropped Maths at the end of Year 12 instead (sorry Nicky – yes that’s him begging in the doorway of Tesco). He’s one example, but I bet there are many other cases in which a student meets an amazing teacher and discovers a passion for a subject he didn’t know he loved.
I don’t actually know what to suggest. Other than shout RUN and head for the IB. We’ll muddle through no doubt, but this is a shambolic policy that puts children and teachers in an impossible situation. To have provided so little time for preparation and given so little information to parents is a disgrace. Shame, shame, shame on you Department for Education.