Update on Implementing A Level Reform 2016-20

Download ASCL information paper: Update on Implementing A Level Reform 2016-20

This paper provides school and college leaders in England with updated information designed to assist the decision-making process when considering the structure of their post-16 courses.

ASCL recognises that post-16 options will vary across institutions as school and college leaders consider the differing needs of students and the different progression routes they may wish to pursue.

AS and A level reform: the facts
  • As students are studying a mixture of reformed and legacy AS and A levels, there will be a mixed economy for a number of years (2016-20).

  • Subject content and assessment for both AS and A levels have changed.

  • AS is now decoupled and stand alone and as a result, fewer students are likely to sit an AS qualification.

  • All students complete their assessments at the end of the course for both AS and A level.

  • For students taking the unreformed AS and A levels, they will have an opportunity to resit in the summer following their exams in every subject. For AS and A levels, only students who have taken the qualification previously, or those who had good reason not to have taken it when planned (such as illness), can take the resits.

First awards: reformed AS and A levels

AS level subjects awarded

A levels awarded



Art and design, biology, business, chemistry, computer science, economics, English language, English language and literature, English literature, history, physics, psychology, and sociology

First A levels will be awarded in 2017



Dance, drama and theatre, French, geography, German, classical Greek, Latin, music, physical education, religious studies, and Spanish

First A levels will be awarded in 2018



Accounting, ancient history, archaeology, Chinese, classical civilisation, design and technology, electronics, environmental science, film studies, further maths, geology, history of art, Italian, law, maths, media studies, music technology, philosophy, politics, Russian, and statistics

First A levels will be awarded in 2019



Arabic, Bengali, biblical Hebrew, Gujarati, modern Greek, modern Hebrew, Japanese, Panjabi, Persian, Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, and Urdu

The A levels will be sat in 2020 although the precise nature of the skills assessed is not yet available.

Features of reformed AS levelsBack-to-the-top

Content for the reformed AS levels is drawn from the reformed A level content, designed to better prepare students for university.

Demand: the content is half the size of a full A level but is less demanding than in an A level. UCAS points reflect this, with 40% of the points of the A level allocated to the AS.

Structure: the AS will be a separate qualification, either taught alongside the first year of an A level or as a separate course. The AS marks will not count towards the final A level grade. Where schools and colleges are not entering pupils for AS examinations, they will need to use their own assessments to tell students how they are progressing.

Non-exam assessment and coursework: most subjects will not have a non-exam assessment in the
reformed qualifications.

Grading for AS levels will remain unchanged. Grades E and A will be key grade boundaries and B, C and D will be set arithmetically.

Features of reformed A levels

Content: the reformed A levels will ensure students have the knowledge and skills to progress to university.

Structure: the reformed A levels will be linear qualifications, with all exams at the end of the two years.

Grading: comparable outcomes will be used to ensure similar outcomes between legacy qualifications and reformed qualifications - roughly the same proportion of students will achieve similar grades as in previous years. Ofqual is clear that the standard of the qualification is to remain the same.

Decoupling means there is no need for UMS which helped standardise results across units, qualifications and boards in a modular system.

The A*: in reformed A levels, grades E and A will continue to be key grade boundaries. They will continue to be set in a similar way to existing key grade boundaries. Grade A* will be set using statistical predictions. Grades B,C and D will continue to be set arithmetically based on the difference between the marks between grades A and E.

Science A level students will also be awarded a separate practical endorsement (pass/fail) indicating they have demonstrated mastery in practical skills, but this will not contribute to their A level grade or carry UCAS points. Higher Education institutions are likely to require this for further study in this field.

Assessment is mainly by examination with non-exam assessment (coursework) only used where necessary: 20% in A level English language, English literature, history, and computer science, 20% for fieldwork in A level geography and 30% in AS and A level modern foreign languages.Back-to-the-top

Vocational qualifications

Vocational qualifications at Level 3 are classified as either Tech Levels or Applied General qualifications if they
are approved for performance tables.

Tech Levels are for students wishing to specialise in a specific industry, occupation or occupational group, enabling entry to an apprenticeship or other employment, or progression to a related higher education course. There is 30% external assessment.

Applied General (AG) qualifications are for students wanting to continue their education through applied learning, and which fulfil entry requirements for a range of higher education courses. AG qualifications must have a minimum of 60% mandatory content, the rest can be chosen from a range of optional content. There is 40% external assessment.

Technical Certificates are Level 2 qualifications for students wishing to specialise in a specific industry, occupation or occupational group. They are appropriate where a Level 2 qualification is required before students can progress to a Tech Level.

Options for structuring an A level programme

Each institution will have to decide on the structure which provides the best progression routes for their students and is manageable within their resources. This is always a delicate balance but decision making is more difficult at present due to funding pressures.

As the reformed AS levels are optional, this level of flexibility is leading to some schools and colleges questioning the value of offering the revised AS qualification. Schools and colleges are taking the following factors into account when making this decision: funding, HE requirements, pedagogical considerations (for example, feasibility of co-teachability in some subjects), timetabling, time required to prepare for AS assessment and logistics.

Feedback from members indicates that the following options are the most common:

  • Many schools and colleges are not offering the AS in reformed subjects (only in legacy subjects).

  • The AS is only being offered in some reformed subjects.

  • The AS in reformed subjects is only being offered to certain students and the majority are studying three linear A levels.

  • The Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) is growing in popularity to sit alongside three linear A levels. Many centres are also choosing to offer core maths as an alternative to the EPQ to supplement the 3 main A level and applied subjects.

  • It is clear that some schools and colleges are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach, maintaining their current AS offer for now and reviewing their programmes once the full suite of revised A levels is available from 2017.

  • Programmes should be designed to meet learners’ needs and aspirations and a single ‘one size fits all’ approach may not be appropriate.Back-to-the-top

Post-16 GCSE English and maths

When enrolling new students on legacy GCSEs or IGCSEs in the 2016 to 2017 academic year, schools and colleges should be aware that there will be no opportunity to resit legacy GCSEs after summer 2017 if they do not secure a grade C or above.

IGCSE and equivalent Level 1 and Level 2 certificates will also be offered as resits in 2017 and are approved for teaching under the 16-19 Maths and English condition of funding and resulting achievements will count towards progress measures.

Resits for English and maths GCSEs and IGCSEs can be taken by students who did not previously sit the exam, as long as they are over the age of 16 as of 31 August 2016.

IGCSEs and equivalent Level 1 and Level 2 certificates will cease to be approved for teaching under the 16-19 maths and English condition of funding after summer 2017, and will also be removed from post-16 accountability table.

Schools and colleges will need to decide if their 2016 cohort should sit the legacy GCSE in 2017 or spend two years preparing for the reformed GCSE and sit this in 2018.

From 2017 students will be awarded GCSE maths and English on a numeric scale from 1-9 with 5 being the government defined ‘good pass’ at grade 5 for school accountability purposes only.

Students do not need to resit if they achieve a 4 in 2016-17 and 2017-18. In 2019 it is likely (but not confirmed) that students who do not achieve a 5 in maths and English will need to resit as part of their post-16 programme of study.


In order to qualify for funding a student’s study programme must meet with the requirements set out in the DfE’s Advice: Funding Regulations for Post-16 Provision In general the planned hours for any student must be timetabled, organised and supervised by the institution, and take place in line with the institution’s normal working pattern to deliver the study programme during the relevant funding year. The hours that will count towards a study programme are categorised as either a qualification (planned learning hours) or nonqualification hours (planned employment, enrichment and pastoral hours).

There is a wide range of flexibility in this and schools and college leaders are urged to read the detail of the current documentation before finalising their curriculum plans.Back-to-the-top

Impact on application to higher education

The first major cohorts of learners holding revised A level qualifications in some subjects will be applying to higher education (HE) from September 2016 to begin undergraduate courses from September 2017. It is not until September 2020 that applicants from England will apply holding a full set of both reformed A levels and GCSE qualifications.

Universities and colleges are reviewing their admissions practices in light of qualification reform to try to ensure that students are not disadvantaged as a result of curriculum choices made by their schools or colleges. Not all applicants taking A levels will have the opportunity to take the AS. Higher education providers are therefore unlikely to require the AS for admission to their courses.

The majority of current growth into HE is from blended pathways (BTECs in particular).


Every institution’s results are published in the National 16-18 Performance Tables. The content of these tables has been reformed with first publication due in January 2017, reporting on students completing their Key Stage 5 study in the 2015-16 academic year.

There are five headline measures, with supplementary measures below these, and are based on individual qualification outcomes rather than a programme of qualifications. The headline measures currently report on four categories of students:

  • academic (comprising mainly of A level results but also AS levels and smaller qualifications such as the EPQ)

  • applied general

  • Tech Level

  • technical certificate (Level 2)

Results for qualifications that are not assigned to one of these categories do not impact negatively or positively on those headline measures (of course all qualification results will always count for the individual student, whether included in a measure or not, particularly in terms of the student’s own progression).Back-to-the-top

Performance Measures – Headline

Progress is measured by calculating a value-added (VA) score (see New Level 3 VA Progress Measure section) for academic and applied general qualifications. A combined completion and attainment measure is used for Tech Level and technical certificate qualifications rather than a VA measure (because there is weaker correlation between students’ Key Stage 4 attainment and their outcomes in Tech Levels).

Attainment is measured by calculating an average point score per entry (APE). The new scale will allocate 10 points per grade at A Level, ie 10 points for a grade E increasing to 60 points for an A*.

Retention is measured as a percentage and based on the proportion of students who are retained to the end of their main programme of study (even if this is just down to one subject). It is not automatically based on examination entry as in previous years, so the importance of correctly ticking the core aim in the autumn census and then clicking the completion box for leavers is greater than ever.

Destinations is measured as a percentage of leavers who subsequently are in sustained education, employment or training. New legislation allowing access to HMRC and DWP records means that student destinations should now be able to be tracked with high levels of accuracy on a national basis, making meaningful data for this measure for the first time (although less so for independent schools).

Progress in English and maths is measured by calculating a score which shows how much of a grade of progress students have made against their prior (Year 11) GCSE or other Key Stage 4 result. It should be noted that this is not measuring value-added in the true statistical sense, as the comparison to the national average performance for students with similar prior attainment will not be done. The most recent shadow grades for national benchmark data are both negative, indicating that the majority of students perform worse when they resit their GCSE English or maths exam.

Performance Measures – Supplementary

The tables also include a performance measure showing the proportion of students achieving AAB or higher (in at least two facilitating subjects). Only A level students will be included, not those on mixed programmes.

The tables also include a performance measure showing the ‘Best 3’ A levels (this will therefore tend to be a higher score than the A level score)

Core maths will be part of the 2017 performance tables where achievement will be measured as “% of those eligible to take maths (ie those who have grade C GCSE already) who pass a maths qualification” (includes AS/A2 Maths & Further Maths). This will be a supplementary part of the attainment measure.

The Technical Baccalaureate is a performance measure which recognises the highest level of technical training achieved by students aged 16-19. To achieve the TechBacc, students will need to attain:

  • an approved Level 3 Tech Level qualification

  • an approved Level 3 mathematics qualification

  • an extended project qualification

Nationally, fewer than 100 students achieved this in 2015.Back-to-the-top

AS level

The first exams in the decoupled AS qualifications taken in 2016 by students will appear in the performance tables in January 2018.

AS levels will continue to feed into the headline attainment and progress measures in the same way as they do in the current performance tables. Where a student has taken AS levels in additional subjects alongside their A levels, they will be included in the APS or APE and their Level 3 Value Added progress score. Current discounting practice will apply, ie an AS will be discounted where the student has gone on to take the full A level in the same subject.

The best three A levels and AAB in the facilitating subjects measure will be A level only measures, therefore, they will not include AS results.

The retention factor is based on a student’s study programme whether it is AS levels, A levels or other combination. It is the completion of the core aim as measured in the autumn census that calculates retention.

New level 3 VA Progress Measure

The Level 3 VA progress measure shows how well students have progressed when compared with students with the same prior attainment. Progress will be shown separately for academic and Applied General qualifications.

The measure will show the progress each student makes between Key Stage 4 and graded Level 3 qualifications (excluding Tech Levels), compared with the actual progress made by students nationally who had the same level of attainment at Key Stage 4. This score will be expressed as a proportion of a grade above or below the national average, for example, students with a score of 0.5 have achieved half a grade higher than the national average.

With the Level 3 academic qualifications progress measure, students’ prior attainment will be based on their average attainment in full course GCSEs only.

For the Level 3 Applied General qualifications progress measure, students’ prior attainment will be based on all qualifications achieved at Key Stage 4.

Where a student moves provider during their 16-18 study, their results will now be reported against the relevant provider they attended in each year, instead of a single provider. This process is known as “allocating” student results across all the institutions that they attended and the AS discounting rule would not apply in these situations.Back-to-the-top

Further information

DfE’s Advice: Funding Regulations for Post-16 Provision

For regular updates and information on the latest curriculum and assessment news, including post-16 news, visit ASCL’s Curriculum Know Zone at www.ascl.org.uk/curriculum


ASCL Curriculum and Assessment Specialist Suzanne O’FarrellBack-to-the-top