Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Co-teaching new AS and A-levels

You'll be aware by now that the new AS-Level for first teaching in September 2016 is a so-called "stand-alone" or "decoupled" qualification so any marks gained from it will not count towards A-level. Like all other AS-levels, however, it has been designed to be co-teachable with A-level. It remains to be seen how many schools will embrace this idea. Certainly the exam boards anticipate a large fall in AS entries as school focus on the traditional three linear A-levels taught over two years.

For schools which do go down the co-teaching route, what are the implications?

Recall that for AS-level students have to be taught either a literary text or a film. For the full A-level students have to study either a book and a film or two books. In terms of themes/topics, the AS-level material is incorporated within the A-level themes.

Students in schools who do offer AS-levels in Y12 could do their language for a year, take the AS exam and get a grade. This may influence their decision to carry on into Y13.

If I had to co-teach I think I would do it this way:

I would teach a film in Y12. For some students the leap to studying a full novel or play in Y12 would be quite high. In Y13 I would then teach either a second film and a text, or two texts. On balance, with most groups, I would probably go for a film in the autumn term and a text in the spring term.

In Y12 I would cover the AS-level themes spelled out in the specification (see my previous blog) and add any other material I thought were worthwhile or topical. I would build in grammar revision the content of which would depend on the group. Some groups would need the basics going over again, others not so much.

Is there a case for using the film studied in Y12 for the A-level entry in Y13? You could do this, but the film (or text) would need to be re-visited in Y13 which would make for clumsy planning. I would do a separate film (or text in Y13). Don't forget that in Y113 students will need to do their personal research project too, but they (and teachers) should not make a huge meal out of this. The assessment of this project will take several minutes of the speaking exam - that's all.

In theory AS-level is meant to be as difficult as A-level (but with less of it). The draft specimen material just published shows that the essay questions on the texts and films are less challenging than at A-level. This makes sense and I hope Ofqual agree. If they toughened up the essay questions at AS-level this would sink a lot of candidates.

On the basis I have suggested, co-teaching, though not ideal, can be done effectively enough. Certain decisions need to be made. Do candidates intent on doing a two year A-level need to take the AS-level? They would end up with two qualifications. I imagine most would want to do that. As I suggested above, it would give them a clear idea of where they stand in terms of grade. It would also be valuable exam practice and may sharpen up their motivation half way through the course. The AS-level would be a higher stakes alternative to an internal end of Y12 exam.

Given the paucity of modern linguists at A-level schools and departments may be keen to offer AS-level to increase their numbers and to create economically viable classes. They will also naturally want to encourage as many students as possible to benefit from language learning. Budgets will be getting tighter in coming years. Some departments will even be asked to collapse groups from Y12 and Y13 - this is far from ideal.

Much of this will come down to whole school policies which will factor in, amongst other things, the cost of exam entries. I would certainly argue for keeping AS-level and for co-teaching.


  1. The new AS is the same level of demand as the current AS - the standard that you would expect to achieve at the end of Y12. It's not like the old stand alone pre Curriculum 2000 AS.

  2. Yes, I had heard that on an AQA webinar. I had thought that originally Michael Gove wanted AS to be as challenging as A-level. That must have changed somewhere along the line. Thanks for commenting, Frances.