This year’s AS-Level results include the first set of decoupled subjects, which won’t count towards English students’ final A-Level grades next year.

Declines in UK entry numbers in the decoupled subjects range from 11% (business studies) to 33% (art and design).

Why not enter for AS-Level?

Examination fees cost money, and schools’ post-16 budgets are already stretched from funding reforms which have brought greater parity with the FE sector. (In time we may discover that smaller institutions were less likely to enter students.)

In addition, teachers may feel that AS-Levels aren’t a necessary preparation for the A-Level, and that preparation for Year 12 exams intrudes on teaching time.

But clearly many schools and colleges have still considered AS-Levels in the decoupled subjects to have value, for now at least. Students can use AS-Level results to support UCAS applications, and inform their decisions about which subjects to continue into Year 13.

Entry numbers declined in some decoupled subjects more than others

The subjects with smaller falls in entry rates are sociology, economics and business studies. These are all subjects which were increasing in popularity anyway. In their briefing this morning the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) noted that students will usually have not taken a GCSE in those subjects. So is it the judgement of the school that students need an AS as a guide to how well suited they are to these subjects?

The subjects with modest falls in entry rates are the sciences. The JCQ suggested this morning that this could be because these subjects lend themselves relatively well to modular teaching. Have teachers judged that testing the body of knowledge contained in the AS specification is a useful exercise for the students?

The subjects with the largest falls in entry rates are art and design, history and English literature. It is possible that preparation for the AS-Level exam is less useful as preparation for the A-Level. Or that teachers have a preference for linear teaching that is incompatible with an intermediate exam.

Changes in attainment

In some, but not all, of the reformed subjects there was more year-on-year change in schools’ and colleges’ AS-Level results. Attainment in some subjects was pretty variable anyway. The chart below shows that the standard deviation in the year-on-year change in the percentage of Year 12 pupils achieving grade A in English literature was 15 percentage points between 2014 and 2015, for example. The implication is that the change was more than 15 percentage points at almost a third of centres.


The increased variation in some subjects may indicate that the new curriculum is quite different to the old one. Or maybe guidance from exam boards was better in some subjects than in others. Or perhaps it tells us about the characteristics of the students who were entered in 2016 and the sorts of institutions they attend.

Let us know what you think.