The decoupling of AS from the full A-level means that it no longer counts towards A-level

In my last blog post, the first of a four-series discussion about the changes that are happening to both GCSE and A-level Maths, I explained the key changes to GCSE Maths and why young people and teachers are concerned. Today, I will first of all look at the changes that have been implemented in the A-level curriculum as a whole and then provide a summary of the differences between the old and the new A-level Maths specifically.

What is decoupling of A-level?

The decoupling of AS/A-level means that AS and A-level are completely separate, unlike in the previous curriculum. The grade achieved at AS (the first year of A-level) level will no longer count towards the final A-level grade. The curriculum has also been organised in such a way as to try as much as possible to make the second year A-level – the A2 – not necessarily a direct continuation of the AS level. It remains the case that the AS is still available as a qualification, but it is no longer a part of the A-level qualification.

Many experts feel that it is good to retain the AS, because results achieved at AS level provides an indication of a student’s ability to do well at the more challenging A-level. However, many colleges and schools have decided not to offer the AS course at all – offering only the straight two-year A-level, with no direct link to the A-level. It must be noted that, even in some cases where a student drops a subject in the first year, the school does not enter them for the exam until the end of the second year. The potential side effect of this policy is obvious as they will be sitting an exam a year later after studying the course. The reason offered in cases where that operates is that the preparation of students for the AS examination courses is a disruption to other subjects and the whole timetable.

Due to pressure on education funding and a severe shortage of teachers, many sixth form colleges, and indeed schools, have decided not to allow students to study four subjects in the first year of A-level, but to study just three subjects in both the first and the second year. It used to be the case that the vast majority of students did at least four, and in some cases five subjects in the first year of the A-level course. Most usually drop one of the subjects and go on to study at least three in the second year. This allows for broader knowledge, and also, the subject they only studied for one year – although not usually a requirement – often comes in handy in assisting their university admission. Under that system, students sit an exam for that fourth subject and obtain an AS qualification in it. This is still the case for most of the top schools in the country, as students are still required to take four A-level subjects, at least, in the first year. Despite the new system and the decoupling, the AS qualification is still available and students are still entered for it so they can get a qualification in the subject they are only studying for one year. It is regrettable that so many schools and colleges are no longer allowing young people to have the option of taking four subjects in the first year of A-level as this limits their options for the next stage of their education.

In my next blog post, which is the third in this series, I will be discussing the issues around young people finding the new GCSE Maths more challenging, providing clarity on the changes that are being made to A-level Maths and offering suggestions as to whether young people should consider taking A-level Maths or not.

Part 1: Fewer young people taking A-level Maths – a tragedy or a blessing?

Part 3: A-level Maths – should I or should I not – will my figures add up? 

Part 4: Is A-level Maths worth its weight in gold?

A summary of specific changes to A-level Maths:

General changes to the new A-level –