Choosing A-levels: Universities want students with core academic A-levels

Universities want students with core academic A-levels, says Chris Skidmore in an article in the Telegraph, 06/03/13.

But what about A-levels? It is clear that leading universities are being increasingly explicit about which A-level courses they will look kindly on. In a booklet called Informed Choices, the Russell Group of 24 leading universities list ‘facilitating subjects’ which will keep many doors open for students. These include Maths, English Literature, the sciences, Geography, History and foreign languages.

Yet when we look at what is happening on the ground, students are sadly being failed by schools who are not properly advising students which courses will give them the best chances and the widest choices when they get to applying for higher education.

Take a breakdown of the numbers taking A-levels in 2011/12: 22,005 pupils studied media studies, yet just 474 of these were taken in the independent sector. It is the same story across the board: 1,881 pupils studied communication studies, 32 in independent schools; 6,206 studied film studies, 143 in independent schools; and 1044 pupils took performance studies, of which only 21 pupils in independent schools thought the qualification worth taking.

And it’s not just a binary divide between the independent sector and state schools that is alarming: out of 25,806 pupils eligible for free school meals, just 236 took further maths. 5.5 per cent of FSM pupils took history A-level, compared to 11 per cent of non-FSM pupils.

These disparities will leave many poorer pupils disappointed when it comes to applying for universities, as they will find their possible choices have been limited in a way that could have been avoided.

If we are to tackle this glaring social divide we will need to radically rethink our approach. An Advanced Baccalaureate, or ABacc, which provided a solid core in the subjects that count, while allowing for specialisation beyond that, would go a long way to dealing with the problem.

Extending knowledge in key facilitating subjects beyond GCSE level for all students would widen degree options, particularly for students from lower-income backgrounds, while at the same time improving the academic rigour of post-16 education.

The benefits of a broader post-16 curriculum are such that many schools have already embraced alternative qualifications such as the IB and Cambridge Pre-U. 

By Chris Skidmore, Telegraph. Click here to read the article © The Telegraph