Sunday, October 27, 2013

A-levels toughen up ‘to prepare students for university’ in the UK

English: Central courtyard of Lancaster University
Lancaster University (Photo: Wikipedia)
by Schools Improvement Net:

In one of two separate reports on A levels released yesterday, the Telegraph is reporting that teenagers will be required to study a 200-year period of British or world history and read eight works of literature in depth as part of a major toughening up of A-levels …

… The subject-by-subject review, which was chaired by Prof Mark E. Smith, vice-chancellor of Lancaster University, said that changes to course specifications were needed because many academics feared that students “lacked some of the general skills essential for undergraduate learning”.

“These included both specific academic skills such as researching, essay-writing and referencing, and the wider skills of problem solving, analysis and critical thinking,” it said. “In addition, interviewees noted that some of their students lacked the requisite levels of literacy skills and mathematics.”

The review - which has been put out to public consultation - reserves some of the biggest changes for history A-levels.

Under plans, students will be required to study topics from a chronological range of 200 years - rather than 100 at the moment - because of concerns that previous courses were “too narrow”.

The minimum amount of British history that students must study will be cut by a fifth - from 25 to 20 per cent - because of the large focus on Britain’s past at GCSE and the need to expand teenagers’ knowledge of “more than one country”.

It also includes a new “historial enquiry” project - an independent piece of research that “investigates specific historical questions, problems or issues”.

In English literature, A-levels will include fewer set texts - going from a minimum of 12 to eight - but each work will be studied in more depth. Pupils will be required to cover at least one 21st century work and three pre-1900 texts, including one Shakespeare play.

For the first time, exams will also feature one “unseen” text, meaning that students “will need to read widely, broadening their knowledge and their critical and comparative understanding of literature”.

In further changes, the review recommends:

• A greater focus on social, historical and regional varieties of English as part of new English language A-levels;

• Introducing a “non-literary” text, such as a piece of journalism, into the combined English literature and language A-level course;

• Introducing more advanced maths into subjects such as computing, economics, geography and the three sciences - biology, chemistry and physics;

• Reintroducing traditional fieldwork to geography A-levels to ensure pupils “relate their learning to real experiences of the world”;

• Placing a greater focus on drawing in art courses;

• Renaming business studies as “A-level business” and turning computing into “computer science”, with more focus on developing “computational thinking skills”.

New A-levels in the subjects will be introduced in September 2015, with first exams being sat in 2017. The review does not cover maths, further maths and foreign languages, which are seen as the subjects in need of the most significant overhaul …
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