September 2015 in England and Wales sees yet another educational change in the shape of “new A-levels”- which are sort-of “new old A-levels” in terms of a structure that harks back to the “Good-old-Bad-old days” (pre-2000 in new money).

Although it will still be possible for students to take both an “AS-level” qualification and an “A-level” qualification the situation, if you’ve given it even a passing thought, is likely to be a logistical nightmare for students, teachers and, equally importantly, schools.

This follows because, in a situation where school resources are likely to become ever-tighter and ever more stretched over the next five years, hard decisions are going to have to be made about the type of A-level qualification schools can offer.

For most maintained schools this is likely to mean the AS qualification will effectively disappear as a standalone offering; students enrolled on the 2-year “full a-level” will see AS incorporated into the A-level and won’t take a separate qualification (since there’s little point entering for an exam that will be worth nothing in the context of the full exam – they will have to sit both AS and A2 at the end of their 2-year course).

While there’s nothing to stop students who intend to only sit the AS exam being in the same class as those who intend to do the full A-level, things may become a little tricky the closer they get to the AS exam, in terms of revision etc. A further, perhaps more significant, problem here is that students who do well in the AS exam might then decide they want to complete the full a-level; their AS success then counts for nothing since they effectively have to do the exam again (at a higher level) at the end of their course.

An additional issue occurs if, as seems likely, most students start the 2-year course; since they won’t sit an AS exam before their (UCAS) University applications we will once again return to the system of “predicted grades” based purely on teacher assessments – something a range of educational organisations have recently criticised.

It’s also a fair bet that, for sociology in particular, we will see a reduction in the number of students studying this subject

It’s also a pretty sure bet there will be further consequences:

  1. Success rates will fall. Students who would have dropped sociology after AS (after being pushed or choosing to jump) but now continue to the full a-level are likely to gain lower grades.
  2. An unknown number of students will fail to complete the full a-level, for whatever reason.
  3. Students who would have gained some credit – and a qualification – at AS will fail the full a-level and be left with no qualification to show for 2 years’ work.

These – and probably many other – issues are not, of course, insurmountable (and my guess is that schools will “muddle through” as best they can), but for those of you feeling a little adventurous (or who would just like to carry-on doing things the way you’ve done successfully for the past few years) there is an alternative…

CIE Sociology

The Cambridge International Exam board continue to offer the current route through A-level Sociology – AS and A2 exams that are fully-integrated into a full A-level (the so-called International A-Level).

There are drawbacks in terms of the Syllabus (they don’t use words like “Specification”); it’s a more-traditional view of sociology (it’s a bit like the pre-2000 AQA syllabus if you can remember that far back):

There’s no Crime and Deviance A2 option (generally liked by students but not well-loved by teachers because, not to put too fine a point on it, it’s absolutely HUGE and a nightmare to cover comprehensively in the time available).

There’s also no Stratification option (although this is generally not popular with students anyway).

On the plus side, the skill domains (Knowledge and understanding, Interpretation and application, Analysis and evaluation) will be very familiar.

There’s also no faffing around with “Methods in Context” at AS and A2. Theory and Methods are covered, but in a more discrete fashion.

There is no “synoptic testing” (whatever that actually means anymore).

If you want to check-out what CIE has to offer, take a look at some of these links:

General Structure overview

2015 Syllabus

2017 Syllabus (some minor additions)

Learner Guide

Specimen Question Paper 1

Mark scheme

Specimen Question Paper 2

Mark scheme

Specimen Question Paper 3

Mark scheme

Textbook: Cambridge International AS and A Level Sociology Coursebook (Declaring an Interest: I wrote the CIE-endorsed AS and A2 Textbook so I’d really like lots of people to buy it and make me lots of money. Apart from that, this has been a Public Service Post).

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