FOLLOWING the announcement of "world class tests" for the most able 18-year olds, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority recently published the list of 13 A-level subjects for which the new Advanced Extension awards are being developed.
These are biology, chemistry, economics, English, history, French, geography, German, Latin, mathematics, physics, religious studies, Spanish, and possibly critical thinking.
Any student who is not taking at least one of these subjects will not have access to the AE. Assuming that universities, and maybe employers, will use AE results to identify those to whom they want to make offers, it follows that those without them will be at a disadvantage.
So how were the AE subjects chosen? And which subjects have been left out? Which of the most able candidates will thus be prevented from demonstrating their ability?
Each year in August, the exam boards publish lists of provisional figures for A-level entries and results, grouped into 31 subjects (plus "all other subjects" as a single category). Maybe these figures will throw light on the choice of AE subjects?
Were they chosen for their popularity with candidates? If the subjects listed in the August 1999 provisional figures are ranked by the number of candidates, then nine of the 13 AE subjects are in the top 14.
So far, so good. But which five of the top 14 subjects are not to have AEs? General studies (maybe that's where critical thinking will come in), business studies, art and design, psychology, and sociology.
And where are the other four AE subjects in rank order? Twenty-second, 23rd, 25th and 26th out of 31 (if we assume that Latin is included in classical studies).
Or maybe the choice of AE subjects is to do with trends in the popularity of A-level subjects? Let's rank the 31 subjects in order of year-on-year growth from 1998 to 1999, with the fastest-growing at the top and the fastest-shrinking at the bottom. The highest-ranking AE subject is Spanish in seventh place, followed by maths in 11th place. AE subjects occupy eight of the bottom 12 places. So popularity trends can't have influenced the choice of AE subjects, can they?
So why are business studies, art and design, psychology, sociology and general studies not to have an AE?
Let's assume that AE critical thinking will happen, so that accounts for general studies. Maybe the other four don't get an AE because they are "soft options"?
A crude measure of a "soft option" would be the percentage of candidates who pass in a subject. Let's rank the 1999 results by that measure, putting those with the highest pass rate (the "soft options") at the top and those with the highest failure rate at the bottom. While art and design is at the top, the other three (plus general studies) are all in the bottom eight of the 31 subjects. Hardly the soft options.
So how were the 13 AE subjects chosen? Could it possibly be to do with the types of school or college which tend to offer these subjects?
Now that is an interesting hypothesis.
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