The problem with linear A-levels: more for less?

Sometimes, teaching can feel like an eternal hard labour of sisyphean proportions.  It can be a bit frustrating, unrewarding and repetitive.   I guess it is difficult to feel as though the job is ever complete as there is always more to do.  At times, it is an impossible task that can never be sated.  It might just be grumpiness, the muggy weather or the constant irritation of my hay-fever but I am starting to feel anxious about next academic year already.

We seemed to have survived the first year of our new linear A-level courses.  Students have had a go at the AS exams and they were not a million miles away from what we had been doing in class (hurrah!).  Although, using these new specifications has been a bit like gazing into a murky crystal ball, wondering what their real intent is?


With so few specimen papers, exemplar work and an uncertainty about how useful the legacy papers are, it has been a challenge to know what emphasis to give and how much to focus on the different areas of the syllabus.

Having climbed out of that hole, I feel like I am back at the beginning as we begin to attempt to plan for what Year 2 might look like.  I have plotted the topics into my year planner and I am worried.  As per the linear model, we need to build enough time in the scheme of work to deliver the new content as well as review all the content covered this year.  Under the old specifications, we always had synoptic content that linked back to what was learnt in AS but rarely did we have to walk all the same ground again as they were using the material in a different way.

  • How long will it take to review this year’s learning?
  • Should I leave it to the end or build it into a more spaced-learning (interleaved) style?
  • How much assessment should I do of Year 1 material.

I guess my anxieties are about not really knowing what the shape or pace of Year 2 is.  To a certain extent, this will always be an unknown as different groups respond in different ways; teaching has always been about trial and error.  However, it is my concerns about depth of the new content that worries me.  Different textbooks have different ways of interpreting the ‘new’ spec and I need sometime to digest this information.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the challenge of teaching new stuff, preparing classes and thinking of creative approaches is the fun bit. I just want to make sure that I am teaching in some way prepares them for the exam leviathan that awaits them at the end of the year.  This feels like very new territory, no teacher under 37 have ever taught a linear A-level and no teacher under 30 has ever sat one.  Whilst I am sure it is not rocket science, I would like feel a bit more confident with the journey ahead rather than stumbling my way across the boulders.  Rather predictably, the exam boards do have some new specification courses but they are all £300.  Who has money left in CPD budget at the end of the year.  Moreover, I think these courses should be free to make sure we are all on the same page, but I digress.

Once you add in all your disruptions of learning, INSET, mocks and so on, you realise you have not got as much time as you had previously thought.  Linear A-levels are not necessarily the holy grail to better learning.  Part of the ‘sell’ of linear A-levels was that there was less content but more time to develop a deeper understanding of the material.  I think the reality is the complete opposite.  From where I am sat right now, it feels like we have more to do than ever as we must cover new Year 2 material and review ALL of Year 1 material.

With these new linear curricula and the fallacy of gained teaching time, I wonder if we will end up having to deliver more for less?