It takes two: adapting to new A-level specifications

6th November 2015 at 00:00
Keeping motivation high throughout the two-year time frame will be key – and here’s how to do it

The new two-year A-level specifications for some subjects (see panel, right) were introduced in September.

I teach English literature at a large further education college and, in my subject, teachers can opt for the co-teachability approach to the syllabus (AS- and A-levels as separate subjects) or treat the course as a single, two-year linear qualification (A-level).

My college has chosen the latter approach, with students sitting their final exams in summer 2017. But this poses major challenges, which will require new approaches from teaching staff.

The philosophy behind the new two-year specification is that it should be a broader curriculum with plenty of independent learning opportunities. As the course is now non-unit driven and non-modular, lessons must provide regular opportunities for recapping and discussion, and explicit links to the specification. Where is the course going? How do we help students get there?

Breaking the course up over time, interlinking parts of it and recapping are all vital. You need to consider and promote the following key areas to achieve successful learner outcomes:


High expectations

Demanding big things from your students, course and delivery will be significant for the success of any two-year programme, but key skills must also be embedded in lessons through a different and eclectic approach to teaching and learning. The ethos and culture of your college needs to develop and evolve with the new specification. The key skills and structure of the course need to be made explicit to your students.

Memory techniques

Strategies for regular recapping and testing over the duration of the course, plus regular revision activities, are essential. Revision must not be something that is just crammed in a week before the exam. For example, the English literature specification is now 80 per cent exams and 20 per cent coursework.


Independent learning

The two-year approach increases the need for learners to take ownership of their own evolving learning and enjoyment. Developing an inquisitive ethos in learning is paramount for students. Flipped learning approaches could work well, alongside broader reading and research skills. Remember that independent learning is a process that develops over time. Learners do not just become independent – we have to facilitate and enable their skills.


Longevity of learning

The new specification promotes the ideology that learning is a process that evolves over time. It is not about short-term memory but long-term knowledge. Finding activities that promote this ideology is key. Detailed note-taking skills are also imperative.


Note-taking skills

Learners need to know how to take effective notes during the two-year course. They will need sessions on methods and approaches to use. Think about making your lessons active and interactive.


Active learning strategies

It is vital to make the new course as stimulating and interactive as possible. It could be worth employing strategies such as peer- and self-assessment and extended questioning to elicit high-order thinking skills. Ask your exam board for past papers, exemplar scripts for peer assessment, mark schemes, resources and schemes of work. Each board’s website will have details of how to access these. There should also be an adviser for your subject.


Student monitoring

If your college is opting for the two-year linear version of A-levels, there must be robust attendance checks, monitoring of progress and retention tracking.


Arguably, embracing the new qualifications’ linear structure is the most important thing to do. The approaches are vastly different from Curriculum 2008, in that learning is something that is continuously evolving. Therefore, planning around this is crucial to the success of any two-year A-level course.

Developing and refining learner memory skills and recapping those skills at different stages in the course is key. Interactive and flipped learning approaches could potentially help learners to take ownership of their progress and achievement.

Ultimately, we need to think deeply about the new specifications and reconsider our approach to teaching and learning if we are to empower students with the concept that learning is a continuum which yields development and growth, success and academic fulfilment over time.


Mark Chutter is curriculum leader for English and humanities at Sussex Downs College

Two’s company

Subjects with the new two-year A-level specifications introduced in 2015:

Art and design





Computer science




English language

English language and literature


English literature




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