The UK exam system is set to change quite a bit over the next three or four years. Both the A-level and GCSE systems are going through significant changes, starting with A-levels. What does this mean for current and prospective students?
As long as you take all your examinations by June 2016, you are unlikely to be affected by the changes. So, for instance, you might aim to do your exams in June 2015 and then defer to June 2016 without noticing any significant change – you will be following the same specification, doing the same style of exams, etc.
It is only if you are planning to study through to June 2017 ( or beyond ) that you need to find out the timescale for changes and work out how these will affect you. Indeed, if you want to take GCSEs only, those exams will still be the same in 2017 and it is only in the June 2018 exam series that the changes to specifications will bite.
The A-level situation is more complex because of the nature of the exams (currently in two parts, AS and A2) and because the specifications are not all changing at the same time.
The most important change is that although there will still be AS exams, these will NOT count towards the full A-level qualification. They will be separate stand-alone qualifications. At the moment, you can carry foward your AS results as half your A-level. In future, students will have to do the whole A-level at the end of the two-year study period. The first of the new AS exams will be held in June 2016 but the old-style AS specifications / exams will also be held for the last time in most subjects at the same date.
A good summary of the timeline of changes is on the AQA website at http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/admin/library/AQA-W-REFORM-TIMELINE-ALEVEL.PDF.
Looking at that, you will see that those “old”-style AS results cannot be carried across to the A2s in 2017 (in Phase 1 subjects). To get the full A-level in 2017, you would effectively have to start again, with the specification that has not yet been released. So, unless you are clear that you want an AS qualification ONLY, we should strongly advise against aiming to defer AS studies to June 2016 (in Phase 1 subjects) – unless you’re doing A2 at the same time and/or you are clear that it is the last chance for the A2 as well.
The list of Phase I subjects includes most of the subjects taught by OOL and OHS. The only subjects (Phase 2) where we all have an extra year are Maths and languages (e.g. French and Spanish). There may be fewer centres hosting old-style AS exams in June 2016, of course.
Right now, our general advice to all prospective A-level students would be to make sure you finish your AS studies in June 2015. Then you will have a choice between stopping (having passed your AS exams) or carrying your marks forward to the full A-level in 2016. Then make sure you finish the full programme in 2016 or you may find that the specification has changed radically.
The situation is not quite so complicated for GCSE candidates. The main change to the GCSE system will be that (for most purposes) you will only have ONE chance to sit your GCSE exams. You won’t be able to do GCSEs a module at a time. Instead you will have to sit the entire GCSE in one exam-sitting. It is likely that there will also be rather less coursework in a number of subjects, with more stress placed on exam-performance, but the final details of this have not yet been confirmed. Teaching to the new GCSE specifications will begin (in schools) in June 2016 for first examination in June 2018, so the old specifications still have quite a bit of shelf-life.
Even if the new GCSE arrangements do not suit distance learners, there will still be ample opportunity to sit the IGCSE (or Certificate) alternatives to GCSE. The IGCSE / Certificate specifications are not planned to change at all and they will continue to have the same value as GCSEs and they will remain a more practical option for many distance learners in the years to come.
Good luck in making the right study choices!