A UCAS survey of English secondary schools reveals many remain undecided about whether to offer students the standalone AS qualification once it no longer counts towards a full A Level.
Posted Fri 16 January 2015 - 10:12

A UCAS survey of English secondary schools reveals many remain undecided about whether to offer students the standalone AS qualification once it no longer counts towards a full A Level.

Responses from around 500 schools and colleges already teaching reformed A levels in some subjects, suggest that a typical A level curriculum has yet to emerge.

Around half of schools said they would offer the new AS in all subjects, and two thirds will offer the AS in some form.

Around 18% remain undecided, and some 16% (mainly independent schools) have no plans to offer the qualification.

One of the benefits of the reforms – increased teaching and learning time – won’t be fully realised until 2017 when all A levels have been reformed. Two thirds of respondents said that they would review their qualification programmes at this point.

Over the next three years AS level subjects will be de-coupled from the A Level in England as A levels are reformed.  This means that it is not until September 2018 that young people from England will be making university applications holding a full set of reformed A levels. Meanwhile, A levels from Northern Ireland and Wales remain in the AS/A2 format.

Mary Curnock Cook, UCAS Chief Executive, said: “The findings and comments in this survey clearly show a high level of uncertainty amongst schools and colleges, and a wide range of responses to the A level reform. Only half of those who responded are planning to offer AS qualifications in all reformed subjects that they offer from 2015. 

“With no one single curriculum model dominating, it is likely that more students will be applying to higher education holding a greater diversity of qualifications.

“I am confident that universities and colleges will be flexible in accommodating this diversity to ensure that students are not disadvantaged as a result of qualification choices made by their school or college.”

Schools were also given the opportunity to give their views on the reformed A Levels in their own words.

Some said they were concerned about the lack of information across the sector. Many cited the difficulties of managing mixed assessment requirements, while others said the AS had historically provided a mid-point confidence boost to students. A range of these responses is reproduced in the full survey report.

The key findings are:

  • Many schools and colleges are taking a wait-and-see approach. 65% of respondents will review their programmes once the full suite of revised AS and A levels are available in 2017.

  • Nationally, there are likely to be many different patterns of provision. UCAS identified over 15 possible A level programmes schools and colleges could offer from September 2017, with no single model dominating responses. The survey indicates that the most common programmes may be four AS qualifications leading to three A levels, and a mixed profile of A levels and other qualifications, such as BTECs. Independent schools are more likely to offer the Extended Project.

  • Amongst respondents, 68% thought that the qualification reforms would have no impact on the uptake of A levels, but 24% thought that fewer students would choose A levels in the future.

UCAS’ full report of the survey ‘Unpacking qualification reforms’ is published today (16 January).



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Notes to Editors:

UCAS surveyed 2,470 English universities and colleges in December 2014.  Our report “Unpacking qualification reforms” published today is based on around 469 responses.

UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, is a charity and the UK’s shared admissions service for higher education. We manage applications from over 700,000 applicants each year for full-time undergraduate courses at around 370 universities and colleges across the UK.

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