Key Stage 5 (KS5)
- Key Stage 5 is the two year period of education following GCSEs from age 16 to 19 – students are often referred to as post-16 or sixth formers. At this stage of education students choose more intense and challenging courses in specific subject areas, whether it be academic or vocational.
- The General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level or A-level is the most popular qualification at KS5 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Halfway through KS5 students can sit the GCE Advanced Subsidiary Level examination (AS level).
- A-levels are the most common entry qualification for higher education. Universities value AS and A-levels highly, with many of them making ‘conditional offers’ subject to specific A-level results. In some cases ‘unconditional offers’ are made based upon students’ GCSE performance, predicted grades, interview and personal statement.
- Level 3 BTEC qualifications, Scottish Highers and the International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB) are alternatives to A-levels and are equivalent in terms of UCAS entry.
AS and A Levels
The government has started to implement changes to AS and A-level qualifications in the same way as they have with GCSEs.
A-levels require study over a two year period during the two post-16 years in a school or sixth form college. Students can take AS levels at the end of Year 12 and A-levels at the end of Year 13. There are alternative routes for independent or mature students in colleges or via online A-level courses.
New AS and A-levels have been decoupled and become two entirely separate qualifications – this means that the AS doesn’t count towards the A-level. However, these qualifications are co-teachable as the course content of the AS specification is mostly the same as the first year of the corresponding A-level. Therefore AS and A-level year 12 students can be taught together.
Different schools and colleges are adopting policies which determine what exams you sit and the qualifications you gain at the end of Year 12. Some schools may not enter any students for AS qualifications in order to free up more teaching time for A-levels and will instead use internal assessment to check progress. Other schools and colleges will continue to work in the same AS/A-level format.
There are no core and foundation subjects at AS and A-level. Instead, students can choose the subjects that they enjoy the most and will best prepare them for their chosen career or degree course.
Students take their AS and A-level exams in May and June and will receive their results in the middle of August.
Exams in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are assessed by a number of exam boards, whilst exams in Scotland are assessed by the Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA). Qualifications in England are regulated by Ofqual.
Exam boards in the UK are a great source of information for students sitting GCSE, AS and A-level qualifications. The main exam boards are:
- AQA - Assessment and Qualifications Alliance is an awarding body in England, Wales and Northern Ireland which compiles specifications and holds examinations in various subjects at GCSE, AS and A-level. (aqa.org.uk)
- OCR - Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations is a leading UK awarding body, providing qualifications for learners of all ages at GCSE, AS and A-level. (www.ocr.org.uk/)
- Pearson / Edexcel - Pearson Qualifications - Pearson is the UK's largest awarding organisation offering academic, vocational and work-based learning qualifications, including BTEC and Edexcel (qualifications.pearson.com)
- CIE - Cambridge International Examinations is the world's largest provider of international education programmes and qualifications for 5 to 19 year olds. (cie.org.uk)
- WJEC - Welsh Joint Education Committee provides examinations, professional development and educational resources to schools and colleges in the United Kingdom. (www.wjec.co.uk)
- Eduqas-the new brand of Welsh Joint Education Committee or WJEC offering Ofqual reformed GCSEs, AS and A-levels. (www.eduqas.co.uk)
- CCEA - Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment controls assessment in Northern Ireland (ccea.org.uk)
- SQA – Scottish Qualifications Authority is the national body in Scotland responsible for the development, accreditation, assessment, and certification of qualifications other than degrees. (sqa.org.uk).
In September 2015 schools in England started teaching the new AS and A-levels. Students sat the new AS levels in May / June 2016 and the new A-levels will be first examined in 2017.
In modular qualifications, grade boundaries are set for each individual unit, as they can be taken at different times during the course. This isn’t necessary for linear qualifications, where a single grade is given for the overall subject. (UMS grades are no longer required with linear AS and A-levels).
Grades will continue to be awarded on an A*-E scale.
Features of the new AS and A-level qualifications:
- All courses will be linear and exams will be taken only at the end of the course in May or June. There will be no modular courses and no exams in January
- Assessment will be mainly by exam - course work and practical assessment will only be used if necessary to test essential skills.
- The content for the new A-levels has been reviewed and updated with greater input from universities.
- AS levels will be a stand-alone qualification and AS results will no longer count towards an A level.
- There is no longer a January resit
New-style A-levels have already been introduced in: Art and Design, Biology, Business studies, Chemistry, Computing, Economics, English, History, Physics, Psychology, Sociology, Ancient languages (Latin or Greek), Dance, Drama (Theatre studies), Geography, Modern languages (Spanish or French), Music, Physical education and Religious studies.
New-style A-levels to be introduced in September 2017 include all other subjects such as Maths and Further Maths, Design and Technology, Politics and Law.
How Tutors can help:
- AS-level and A-level exams are more academically challenging than GCSEs. For students whose university placement is dependent upon their A-level results this can be a stressful and demanding time.
- The new linear A-levels mean that students are under more pressure to perform well in their summer exams. Scrapping of the January resit also increases pressure as it is a full year before resits can be taken. Tutors can help to improve grades and secure university places through regular tuition and academic support.
- As with GCSEs, the tutor’s role in A-levels isn’t just about giving students one-to-one academic tuition, but also about teaching revision strategies, helping students interpret and apply knowledge in exam questions and generally improve exam techniques.
- Tutors may play a major role in boosting confidence and developing independent skills during the A-level course.
- Tutor led subject revision courses, skills workshops and exam practice in small groups can provide extra support to students during A-levels.