Does it make sense?


The Government says that it wants A Level students to follow a broad academic programme, post 16, that prepares them for degree-level study and keeps open as many university course options as possible.  It wants universities to help design A levels too. And for them to concentrate  first on  the so called  ‘ facilitating subjects’. The facilitating subjects are those  that are most often required by universities. The list is made up of Maths and further maths; Physics; Biology; Chemistry; History; Geography; Modern and classical languages; English Literature. (see Russell Group FAQs)

The government has introduced a new measure into the school league tables for the first time this year. It’s a measure of the percentage of 18 year olds who achieved overall grades AAB or better in these  facilitating subjects. These institutions would usually expect at least two of those subjects to have been taken for most of their degree courses.  The Government, however, is judging schools by whether students studied these subjects in all three of their A-levels.  Christopher Jefferys in a blog for the Good Schools Guide, says there are grounds for asking- why? Of course these subjects are important, he accepts.  By what logic does having taught more pupils for this narrow range of subjects indicate that one school is providing a better or more successful education than another? Given the proportion of senior politicians and cabinet members who studied PPE at Oxford, he wonders how many of them would have passed the three-A-levels-in-facilitating-subjects-at-grades-AAB. The  Prime Minister for the record took  A-levels in History of Art, History, and Economics (with Politics), so he scores one out of three.  So, suggests Jefferys, this measure-three facilitating subjects- on the face of it looks questionable and arbitrary. He has a point.

Laura McInerney,  a former teacher, now consultant, writing in the Guardian this week, would probably agree. She  is at a loss to understand why these subjects are regarded as  ‘facilitating’, as leading universities do not actually require three of these subjects. The Russell Group only suggests taking at least two of these  subjects. And then only if a student wants to keep their  options open. McInerney finds little logic in the approach.   She writes ‘A student can study geography at Oxbridge without having done geography A-level. To do music, they must have studied music at A-level. Hence, not having music actually closes that option, whereas not having geography does not. So the list fails immediately even by its own logic.’ Indeed.


The Head of Tiffin School  wrote  to the Director of the Russell Group, pointing out that only 44% of their students got AAB in facilitating subjects, but 89% got into Russell Group universities (Source LSN)


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