Winterson, Julia and Russ, Michael (2008) Are A Levels a good preparation for university? In: ‘Doing University’: Student Transitions and Skills in Higher Education, 19 March 2008, University of Huddersfield. (Submitted)

Should we expect A levels to move seamlessly to degree courses?

This paper questions whether they are a good preparation for university and, indeed, whether they should be. It explores some of the findings from the University of Huddersfield TQEF project - ‘Understanding the transition from school to university in music and related subjects’ which has completed a close comparison of the various A level and BTEC syllabuses, carried out interviews with education bodies, teachers and lecturers, observed practice in schools and colleges and conducted a survey of 250 first year students across a range of courses.

School league tables have had a profound effect on teaching and learning styles and many students are not prepared for the independent learning and time management they will encounter in Higher Education.

This proves to be more problematic in some subjects rather than others. The survey demonstrated that, in one subject, the BTEC National Diplomas were a better preparation than A levels for the degree courses and that some A level students thought that their extra-mural musical activities prepared them for university better than the school curricula.

It is clear that QCA and the examination boards no longer focus on the suitability of their curricula as a foundation for university study – rather they are entry requirements. Furthermore pre-university qualifications are too diverse to expect a smooth transition from school to university. Recognising this, it may be more profitable to take a ‘clean sheet’ approach.

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