Sixth forms 'tighten entry criteria' for A-levels after reforms

Schools are tightening the entry criteria for A-levels and discouraging some pupils from studying difficult subjects in response to reforms of the qualification, Ofqual has revealed.

According to a report published today, some schools have begun encouraging “lower ability” pupils to study alternatives like BTECs because they are no longer able to “take a chance” on pupils doing A-levels now that exams in Year 12 no longer count.

The report says there is little evidence that pupils are now picking different subjects, it warned that “some schools were discouraging students from studying subjects seen as harder, or subjects which they had not studied before.”

“Some schools were trying to influence subject choice more than they had done prior to reform,” the exams watchdog noted.

Reforms to A-levels, first introduced in September 2015, decoupled AS and A-levels so that it was no longer necessary for a pupil to take the AS exams as part of the A-level. This has led to a decline in entries for AS qualifications, as expected.

Of the 17 schools studied for the report, six had tightened their entry criteria for A-level, either overall or in specific subjects.

One interviewed teacher said: “I mean, I’m being very, very careful about who I advise because I don’t want them to waste two years of their life. And anyone who, previously I would have said yes you’ll be OK but it’s a little bit borderline, I’m basically saying no don’t do it, because I think it’s just too risky.”

One leader also said that where they might have “taken a chance” on a kid for AS level before, they now recommend they do BTECs instead of A-levels “just to make sure the child achieves”

Some schools have introduced extra vocational alternatives BTECs so they can push lower attaining students towards them, including starting BTECs in forensic and criminal investigation, or replacing subjects as A-level home economics with a similar level three diploma.

Pupils in some schools were also asked to pay for AS entries, if they chose to sit them, the report found. One school told students they could enter as many AS qualifications as they wished, but the school would only pay for one entry and the pupil would be expected to fund the others.