AS and A-level qualifications update: October 2016

Further information on our decision to stop development work on the new AS and A-level qualifications in Archaeology, Classical Civilisation, History of Art and Statistics.

What decision has been taken?

After a lot of consideration, we’ve made the difficult decision to discontinue our work creating new AS and A-level qualifications for teaching from September 2017 in Archaeology, Classical Civilisation, History of Art and Statistics.

We understand the disappointment that this has caused, but we feel it’s the right decision.

What does this mean for current students?

Students currently studying for AS or A-levels in these subjects won’t be affected. They’ll be able to take AS and A-level exams in 2017, and the final A-level exams in 2018.

Was this decision taken by government, or the Secretary of State for Education?

No. The decision not to continue with redevelopment of the subjects was taken by AQA.

Does the decision reflect a view that these subjects are ‘soft’ or that they don’t belong in the curriculum?

No. We wouldn’t describe any qualification as ‘hard’ or ‘soft’. All our academic qualifications are rigorous.

Is this a financial decision by AQA?

No. As an education charity, we offer some qualifications with relatively low numbers of entries where we believe they have educational value, and where we can be confident that the low numbers won’t prevent us awarding appropriate grades. We’d already put considerable resources into developing the new AS and A-levels affected at the time of our decision, and had fully intended to offer these qualifications from 2017.

View the full list of subjects we offer

Why were you developing new AS and A-levels instead of continuing to offer your existing qualifications?

The Government is reforming AS and A-level qualifications. The reforms are in phases, with the first new qualifications taught from September 2015.

The main features of the new qualifications are:

  • assessment will be mainly by exam, with other types of assessment used only where they are needed to test essential skills
  • AS and A-levels will be assessed at the end of the course. The courses will no longer be divided into modules and there will be no exams in January
  • the content for the new A-levels has been reviewed and updated. Universities were involved in this process.

More information on AS and A-level reform is available on the Department for Education website

Can’t you just recruit more examiners?

Unfortunately, that wouldn’t solve the problem, which is to do with the risks arising from the design of the new exams, the specialist nature of the subjects involved, and the number of entries.

Why are you no longer redeveloping AS and A-level Classical Civilisation and History of Art?

Both subjects naturally encompass the vast cultural wealth that their titles imply. Students therefore have a very wide range of options to choose from.

The qualifications are very challenging to mark as a result of the large number and specialist nature of the options, which is compounded by the problem with recruiting examiners with the necessary assessment (rather than subject) expertise. The resulting difficulty in ensuring that marking is consistent across so many options – each taken by a small number of candidates – creates major risks when it comes to safely awarding grades.

In 2016, for History of Art, just over 700 students sat the AS exams and 800 sat the A-level. For Classical Civilisation the figures were 3,000 and 2,500 respectively.

Why are you no longer redeveloping AS and A-level Archaeology?

There are what Ofqual has described as ‘hundreds of optional routes’ through this qualification, and so the same issues apply and are exacerbated by the falling number of students taking this subject.

In 2016, around 600 candidates sat the AS exams, and 369 sat the A-level.

Why will you no longer be developing new AS and A-level Statistics?

As we’ve worked to develop new AS and A-levels in this subject, we’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to develop mathematical and statistical numeracy in the widest possible Key Stage 5 cohort is through our Maths, Core Maths and Further Maths qualifications. These qualifications contain compulsory and optional statistics content.

In the past, statistics has served as a useful supporting subject for students taking A-level sciences. But, with the new science A-levels including much more mathematical content, this is unlikely to remain the case.The entries are very small and are falling year on year: in 2016 some 1,500 sat the AS exams and 800 the A-level.

Could AQA adopt different standards in awarding grades for these subjects in light of the risks identified?

No. To adopt different standards for any subject would undermine the grades awarded across all the qualifications we offer.

Given these issues have been identified as risks by AQA, could AQA not simply ‘take a risk’ in case they are not in fact realised?

No. To offer these qualifications having identified the significant awarding risks associated with them would mean that we’d be allowing students to begin studying for these qualifications even though we couldn’t be confident of being able to award them the right grade in 2018/19. We don’t believe this would be fair or appropriate.

Could these qualifications be simplified in order to reduce these risks?

As an exam board, AQA must follow criteria set for each subject. The criteria are suggested by subject experts and go through a consultation process with teachers before they are confirmed by the Department for Education.

If you’d like to find out more about how a qualification is created, you can watch our video: a guide to creating a specification

Why did AQA not consult with scholarly and professional bodies in these subjects before making a decision?

We understand these bodies would have liked to have had the opportunity to help us overcome the issues, and we appreciate that support.

However, although AQA naturally draws upon and consults scholarly and professional communities in all the subjects we examine, these communities are not part of the ongoing technical monitoring of assessment and risk relating to grade boundaries and qualification design. As such, we don’t normally consult with them on these issues, which are technical issues for the exam sector, rather than subject specialists.

I still have questions. Who can I ask?

The best thing to do is to email the relevant subject team: