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How might schools deal with decoupled AS-levels?

One very positive aspect of the current regime of AS-levels for modern languages is that a significant number of students are happy to continue with a language for one more year after GCSE. At my former school we would regularly get at least 25 students for AS French. Of these only about half would continue to A2 level. The drop-outs were largely students doing maths and science and who could not fit in a language.

What will happen in the new era of "decoupled" or "stand-alone" AS-levels where the AS-level will not contribute to the whole A-level grade?

Bear in mind that the new AS is designed to be co-teachable with A-level and some schools may do this, but I understand that exam boards are anticipating that there will be a huge fall in AS entries - and with this, alas, a further decline in the number of students doing a language after GCSE. I would not be surprised if the boards are right and that we shall see an undesirable narrowing of the sixth form curriculum.

That said, if a school encourages co-teaching of AS and A-level in the lower sixth (Y12) this has important implications for course structure. To remind you, A-level students will have to study a literary work and film, as well as doing a piece of personal research. AS students do a film or book, but no personal research study.

Departments may decide that for co-taught groups in Y12 it makes more sense to do a film in Y12, probably in the spring term. This feels reasonable to me, especially where there are weaker students involved. Tackling a novel in the lower sixth (although common enough in the 1970s) might present too much of a challenge for some post GCSE students. Even so, covering a film in Y12 would take away a lot of time from general language teaching. How would many average students cope?

Students continuing into the upper sixth, to do a full A-level could, in this scenario, study a book and do their personal research project in Y13.

A question arises. Would it be worth all students in this scenario taking the AS-level exam, as they do now? This would have the advantage of giving a common goal to the whole class, but would come at a cost to the school. Students might also find it odd to be doing two different exams, one in Y12, one in Y13, on the same film. (You could, no doubt, choose a different film in Y13.) Would students be motivated by having two qualifications, one AS and one A-level? I find this unlikely and I doubt the school would gain any "value added" points for students accumulating qualifications.

Alternatively, in the co-taught scenario, the AS students would do their exam and the remainder might do an end-of-year exam of equivalent difficulty. This would be cheaper and seem more reasonable to students. On the other hand, if all students know they will all be entered for AS they will know they can keep their options open for Y13. Some may even make their Y13 choices after getting AS results.

It is very unlikely, by the way, that students would do an AS in Y13 having had a fallow year in Y12.

Another model schools may adopt is to simply tell students that AS-level is not available. They could argue that the greater degree of difficulty of the new A-levels makes it inadvisable to add an extra AS level (i.e. fourth subject, as now). The school will be judged on A-level scores so why risk compromising these? Students may feel the same. They will get their university place based on A-level scores.

Could schools run separate AS courses alongside A-level? This might be feasible in subjects with large take-up but would be most unlikely for modern languages. Indeed, the new regime, without coupled AS-levels, may see some departments stop post-16 languages completely.

I would be interested to hear what schools are planning!




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