What next? GCSEs, A-levels and apprenticeships

There has been an overhaul of GCSE and A-level qualifications during the past couple of years in a bid to ensure pupils leave school better prepared for work or further study.

By the time your child is ready to be considering his options, teachers will have had more experience of the new system.

Last summer students received their grades for most subjects in the usual A*-G format but for mathematics, English language and English literature they were graded on a scale between 9 and 1 instead.

These were followed by a further 20 this summer including history, geography, double science, PE and art and design with the remaining subjects getting the new grades in 2019.

A9is the top grade, while one is the lowest pass possible, with an outright fail still graded as a U. 

The top two marks of A* and A are broadly equivalent to a new grade of 7, 8 or 9, while pass marks of B and C have been replaced by grades 4, 5 and 6. 

At the lower end of the scale, grades D, E, F and G will be graded 1, 2 or 3.

The Department for Education (DfE) says its new GCSEs are designed to match the standards set by the strongest performing education systems in the world.

While exam regulator Ofqual says the 1 to 9 scale will help them to better differentiate between the highest performing pupils and distinguish clearly between the new and old exams.

It also says there is new, more demanding content.

Courses are designed for two years of study – they are no longer be divided into different modules and students will take all their exams at the end of their course.

Exams can only be split into ‘foundation tier’ and ‘higher tier’ if one exam paper does not give all students the opportunity to show their knowledge and abilities. 

Mathematics is one of few subjects that remain tiered. 

The regulator says this is because manageable assessments cannot be designed that would both allow students at the lower end of the ability range to demonstrate their knowledge, skills and understanding, and that would stretch the most able students.

The two tiers are focused on grades 1-5 and 4-9.

There are now fewer course options in the new science GCSEs – most students will take the new combined science course, which is worth two GCSEs, or three separate GCSEs in biology, chemistry and physics.

Resit opportunities will only be available each November in English language and mathematics.

Meanwhile changes have also been introduced to the A-level system.

The reforms have seen a switch to assessment being mainly by exam and have also led to some subjects such as applied science and creative writing being scrapped.

New style study programmes were introduced for some subjects in 2015 and from last summer all courses follow the same system.

Courses are no longer be divided into modules and all exams take place in the summer.

The changes also mean that students have less coursework and fewer practical assessments.

AS and A-levels have been decoupled so that AS levels become stand-alone qualifications and no longer count towards an A-level, in the way they have previously done.

They have also been designed by exam boards to be taught alongside the first year of A-levels.

Most pupils take four subjects in Year 12. 

After AS level exams they drop one subject, and continue the other three through Year 13 to complete A-levels – although this can vary depending on the pupil and school policy.

The content for the new A-levels has been reviewed and updated, with universities playing a much greater role in this for the new qualifications than they did previously.

It is hoped that this will make A-levels better preparation for university study.

The move has been welcomed by higher education institutions.

As a result of both reforms, some subjects could disappear forever because at the moment updated courses are not being developed for them.

These include leisure studies, catering, computing and environmental and land based science at GCSE and performance studies and international development at A-level.

Exams regulating body, Ofqual, decides to stop a course if it believes the subject is too similar to others, or could be easily enveloped as part of others in the future.

But many students are looking for an alternative that prepares them better for the world of work.

Apprenticeships are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to A-levels, with students looking to combine real work with academic study.

It is also is an opportunity for 16-year olds to earn and learn at the same time as getting a foot in the door of their chosen industry.

Apprentices split their time between the workplace and a training centre or college.

They are expected to work for at least 30 hours a week and are treated like a permanent employee, receiving a salary, holidays and other benefits.

Some programmes are structured so that an apprentice will spend four days in a week at work, and one day at college.

Other employers will retain an apprentice for weeks or months at a time, and then send them to college for an extended study period.

Anyone interested in an intermediate, or level 2, apprenticeship will usually require at least five GCSE passes.

But there are different entry requirements depending on the sector and job.

At any one time there are up to 28,000 apprenticeship vacancies available online in a variety of careers and industries across England – from accounting and animal care to plumbing and printing.


New T-level exam courses, dubbed the greatest shake-up of technical education for 70 years, are also being rolled out.

The T-levels are technical qualifications at A-level standard. 

The course content will be created by panels of employers with a three month compulsory industry placements.

The T-levels, which are technical Qualifications at A-level standard, will be taught at Dudley College of Technology, Sandwell Academy, Walsall College and Walsall Studio School.

They are among just 10 further education providers across the Midlands chosen to taken part in the scheme. 

Across the country, 52 schools and colleges have been named as the First T-level providers.

The First three subjects will be construction, digital, and education and childcare, which will be taught from September 2020.

A further 22 courses being rolled out in stages from 2021, with courses covering sectors such as Finance and accounting, engineering and manufacturing, and creative and design.

0 0