Consultation on Proposed A Level Changes – EMC’s Digest


It is currently rumoured that the criteria are about to change again; if they do, then we will update our response.

The consultation comes in two parts, one from OFQUAL, giving the overarching structure for all A Levels, with specific sections on each subject. The focus is assessment and its implications. The key element for the English subjects is the outlining of the Assessment Objectives. The DfE part of the consultation involves the more detailed subject content and criteria, which Awarding Bodies will draw on to create their specifications.

This set of proposals for reform is the product of a previous consultation. EMC has pulled out some key aspects of these new proposals, highlighting some of the most significant features you might want to comment on, or look at more closely.


Ofqual consultation

  • A Level is a two year course. AS is an entirely separate qualification, a sub-set of A Level. Any assessment done at AS does not count towards A Level. OFQUAL are highlighting the fact that it should be co-teachable but that co-teachability should not damage the integrity of A Level.

Here are some EMC examples to help explain:

  • Student A does AS (possibly within a class with other students intending to do a full A Level). She sits the AS exam(s) at the end of the year and is awarded the qualification.
  • Student B intends to do the full A Level. She studies the same subject content as Student A (possibly in the same class) but does not sit an exam after the first year. She goes on to complete the A Level and is awarded the qualification.
  • Student C does AS (as Student A does), sits the AS exam and is awarded the qualification. She does surprisingly well and decides to go on to do a full A Level. The subject content already covered in AS is part of the AL, so she is at no disadvantage but she has to sit the full A Level, which includes the content from her first year.
  • Coursework

Coursework is limited to 20% (currently 40%) and will only be allowable as part of the A Level assessment, not as part of AS. EMC’s understanding is that it could be taught at any point in the two years but only submitted at the end of the linear course.

  • Assessment Objectives
    • Changes to the Assessment Objectives seem to EMC to be largely tidying up or rationalizing, rather than dramatically shifting the nature of the subjects.
    • The proposal, in each case, is for five Assessment Objectives for each subject. In the cases of Literature and Language and Literature it allows a de-coupling of some rather awkward combinations in the previous Assessment Objectives. In particular the yoking together of comparison and interpretation in English Literature.
    • The new weightings given to each Assessment Objective are a more significant issue. First a narrower permitted range is given to all of them, which gives less flexibility (or greater comparability?) between specifications, depending on how you see it. In addition, for each subject, AO1s 1, 2 and 3 can be within the range 20% – 30%, whereas AOs 4 and 5 are only within the range 10% – 15%. This may seem like a small point, till you realise that it shifts the emphasis of the subject in particular directions. For instance, in English Literature, contexts is worth 20% – 30% whereas both connections and different interpretations are only allowed to be worth 10% – 15%. Given what we know about the challenges of contexts for A Level Literature, it seems like a surprisingly large weighting in the subject overall.
    • In Lit and Lang/Lit the formulation ‘language, structure and form’ has been simplified to read ‘the ways in which writers shape meanings’ or ‘in which meanings are shaped’. This may be helpful in steering teachers and students away from formulaic responses and anxiety about the difference between form and structure.
    • In Lang/Lit the main shift is to rationalize the presentation of the ‘integrated’ nature of the subject. The feeling has been that integration in every aspect of the course isn’t always helpful and that the new version puts the onus on specification writers, teachers and students to select the most appropriate concepts and approaches from literary and linguistic study.


English Literature

Proposed Subject Content – The Criteria

Some of the key points that EMC would pick out:

  • AS is a minimum of 4 texts. A Level is a minimum of 8 texts. This is a reduction of 2 for AS and 4 for A Level.
  • AS must have one work published before 1900, 1 text from poetry, prose and drama (but not necessarily Shakespeare).
  • AL must have 3 texts before 1900 (including 1 Shakespeare) and 1 post-2000 text. It must include at least examples of each of the genres of poetry, prose and drama.
  • A Level must include an unseen text (possibly part of the reason for the reduction in set texts being that students should be reading widely to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in the unseen.)
  • Interestingly, the Subject Content seems to place higher value on both the ways texts relate to each other and the interpretation of texts by different readers than is evidenced in the OFQUAL Assessment Objectives.

English Language and Literature

Proposed Subject Content – The Criteria

Some of the key points that EMC would pick out:

  • For both AS and A Level, they should study a wide range of spoken and written texts from different times. (These times aren’t spelled out.)
  • AS is now a minimum of 3 texts, (2 from the genres of prose fiction, poetry and/or drama plus a non-literary text)
  • AL must have 6 substantial texts from different times, 3 from prose fiction and/or drama. There is ambiguity in the ‘and/or drama’ but it seems to mean that you have to do prose fiction and can choose whether to do poetry, drama or both. Of the further 3 texts, at least 1 must be non-literary.
  • In ‘knowledge and understanding’, there’s a greater emphasis on spelling out the language levels that students should ‘show awareness of’, drawn from: Phonetics, phonology and prosodics; lexis and semantics; grammar and morphology; pragmatics and discourse. EMC’s reading of this is that the wording is flexible enough to allow for specifications to give different emphases and that there wouldn’t need to be rigid proof of coverage of everything. ‘Where appropriate’ seems to be the key message.
  • AS and A Level both require students to develop their skills as ‘producers and interpreters of language.’ The ‘producers’ element at A Level can be fulfilled via coursework. For the AS, this isn’t possible, so presumably would have to be made possible within an exam.


English Language

Proposed Subject Content – The Criteria

Some of the key points that EMC would pick out:

  • The Assessment Objectives remain largely unchanged, but with a new AO that covers connections across texts. AO1 retains its unhappy union of the application of linguistic methods and coherent, accurate written expression: two areas that would probably benefit from their own separate AOs.
  • We now have ‘language levels’ rather than ‘frameworks’ or ‘methods’. You have been warned! These consist of phonetics, phonology & prosodics, lexis & semantics; grammar & morphology; discourse and – spelled out in its own right, for the first time – pragmatics.
    • A form of language investigation is stipulated at A level (but not AS) with students encouraged to ‘independently investigate language in use’.
    • A level (rather than AS) appears to be the place where change, variation and individual language use will be covered. AS refers to a range of contexts for analysing and interpreting language use, but doesn’t specify much beyond that.
    • A level appears to offer a step up by explicitly demanding that students ‘synthesise’ and see connections between their knowledge and understanding from different areas of the course and that they ‘critically evaluate attitudes towards language and its users’.
    • The subject criteria state that both students at both AS and A Level will be encouraged to develop their skills as producers and interpreters of language, suggesting that there will be scope for ‘creative’ writing at both levels, but there is no mention of creating ‘imaginative and informative texts for different audiences and purposes’ (from the 2006 subject criteria), so it’s not entirely clear what forms this ‘creative’ writing might take.

EMC, with thanks to Dan Clayton for his comments on English Language


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