Should there be more emphasis on breadth in sixth-form study?

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Tolgash
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Our curriculum has two main parts: STEM and the arts/humanities (actually, some may argue that these could be separated into three). These two parts foster different skillsets that can be valued in different places at different times. In England, we seem to have an educational philosophy that embraces specialisation quite early. Now, I am not saying that we don’t need specialists. One of the reasons that societies can function so well because we can enhance our talents and specialise in different fields. That being said, does it come prematurely in our country?

Research would suggest that, compared to the rest of the world, we indeed do. Many countries in Europe and around the world seem to offer a baccalaureate system, or at least one that is close to it. A Levels often can, and it could be argued that they currently do, encourage a narrower academic path. Some students can virtually completely abandon their essay-writing skills with a combination of maths, further mathematics and physics. While other students can forsake all of the numerical skills and scientific knowledge they have acquired with a subject combination of law, philosophy and politics (I had the opportunity to take this combination). Is this right? Maybe, but why must we decide to forget about the other fields so quickly? I think it is important to have contrasting subjects, less so than complementary ones, but still important nevertheless.

One Tes journalist wrote on the topic and had this to say:

From the moment that GCSE results are announced, the further and higher education systems funnel students towards academic specialisation. Fields of learning get constricted, becoming narrower and narrower.

The only academic route that allows students to have a reasonable degree of breadth is the IB Diploma Programme, which is kind of sad seeing as it’s not exactly the most common thing out there and it appears that there have been plans to make cuts that hinder it being an option in state schools.

I don’t propose that we completely emulate the systems of other countries in this case, because that be far too extreme a change. However, a solution that could be more conducive to a broader education in the sixth form may be the following:

A student takes three A Levels in the field that he/she wishes to specialise in, but then takes a contrasting AS Level on the side (e.g. a student may take a STEM-heavy trio of maths, chemistry and biology at A Level, with an AS in French; conversely, a student wishing to go into the humanities may study A Levels in English literature, history and religious studies, with an AS in maths).

I also think that some subjects could work well together, like people interested with political policy and also what is happening to our environment may study an AS in environmental studies and an A Level in politics or vice versa. If AS statistics wasn’t being discontinued, that might have been good for an aspiring historian for when they have to eventually interpret them when using evidence for their conclusions. Not only that, but it may make AS Levels relevant again and there may be a resurgence of them.

Now, I understand there may be some problems. One of them being where we would place psychology, geography and economics, subjects that seem to have a fair balance, and others that I am sure that you guys can probably see.

So, what do you think? Is this purely asinine, or is there some sense to it?
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SkyRunner61
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I must admit, as someone who never liked essay writing much, I was glad that I was able to cut down on the number of essay subjects post-GCSE. However, I do wish that I had been able to take more subjects, as I had to choose between Mandarin and CompSci because of the blocking system at my sixth form, both of which I really wanted to do. I also really enjoyed Philosophy at GCSE level...so to be honest maybe with my spread I would have been suited to IB, though I would have hated English.

I actually did take the approach you mentioned: I did three STEM subjects (Chem, Maths and Further Maths) and then did Mandarin, which I affectionately termed my 'something different'. Writing essays in Chinese was fine as I would say that the learning language part is extremely similar to scientific and mathematical thinking (or at least, the way I thought about it was), but I wasn't able to completely cut out writing essays in English since my exam board does history and film components as well. I think it was a good decision since it was a skill that I had to put a lot of effort into, and being able to structure an argument well in writing is important, so I would support that idea.

Maybe I'm speaking as a hard science person, but I do lump psychology, geography and economics in with the traditional humanities subjects, so I would view a person who did three sciences and one of those as fairly balanced. I'd be interested in how someone who's more interested in humanities would view them.
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Fazzy_77
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I was actually just having a conversation with some friends about this last week. We all agreed that it was sad that we had to decide what field we wanted to go into at such an early age, especially when most young people still aren't sure about what they want to do in the future.

At gcse I enjoyed studying French and geography but decided against those subjects for A levels since they weren't necessary for me to do computer science at uni. Although you could argue that my subjects (maths, economics and chemistry) incorporates maths skills and essay skills, I still don't think it is very balanced.

The only problem with doing AS's in some subjects along with 3 A levels is that some would find that too stressful and time consuming. A levels are difficult enough on their own, adding an AS could just for the sake of balance could prove to be too difficult for some.

Instead, there should be some enrichment programme or something similar to encourage students to try new/different subjects like a new language. My school actually tried this last year but it was executed in an awful way so they scrapped it after a while.
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username4867806
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(Original post by SkyRunner61)
I must admit, as someone who never liked essay writing much, I was glad that I was able to cut down on the number of essay subjects post-GCSE. However, I do wish that I had been able to take more subjects, as I had to choose between Mandarin and CompSci because of the blocking system at my sixth form, both of which I really wanted to do. I also really enjoyed Philosophy at GCSE level...so to be honest maybe with my spread I would have been suited to IB, though I would have hated English.

I actually did take the approach you mentioned: I did three STEM subjects (Chem, Maths and Further Maths) and then did Mandarin, which I affectionately termed my 'something different'. Writing essays in Chinese was fine as I would say that the learning language part is extremely similar to scientific and mathematical thinking (or at least, the way I thought about it was), but I wasn't able to completely cut out writing essays in English since my exam board does history and film components as well. I think it was a good decision since it was a skill that I had to put a lot of effort into, and being able to structure an argument well in writing is important, so I would support that idea.

Maybe I'm speaking as a hard science person, but I do lump psychology, geography and economics in with the traditional humanities subjects, so I would view a person who did three sciences and one of those as fairly balanced. I'd be interested in how someone who's more interested in humanities would view them.
I do Geography as well as Maths, Biology, and Chemistry and I would say it is definitely a mixture of science and humanities. Some of the physical geography content is the same as the content I've covered in my other subjects, especially biology. Even human geography crosses over due to the sub-topics on disease and farming.
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Tolgash
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(Original post by SkyRunner61)
I must admit, as someone who never liked essay writing much, I was glad that I was able to cut down on the number of essay subjects post-GCSE. However, I do wish that I had been able to take more subjects, as I had to choose between Mandarin and CompSci because of the blocking system at my sixth form, both of which I really wanted to do. I also really enjoyed Philosophy at GCSE level...so to be honest maybe with my spread I would have been suited to IB, though I would have hated English.

I actually did take the approach you mentioned: I did three STEM subjects (Chem, Maths and Further Maths) and then did Mandarin, which I affectionately termed my 'something different'. Writing essays in Chinese was fine as I would say that the learning language part is extremely similar to scientific and mathematical thinking (or at least, the way I thought about it was), but I wasn't able to completely cut out writing essays in English since my exam board does history and film components as well. I think it was a good decision since it was a skill that I had to put a lot of effort into, and being able to structure an argument well in writing is important, so I would support that idea.

Maybe I'm speaking as a hard science person, but I do lump psychology, geography and economics in with the traditional humanities subjects, so I would view a person who did three sciences and one of those as fairly balanced. I'd be interested in how someone who's more interested in humanities would view them.
Interesting anecdote. I must say that I am impressed by your dedication. I hope you can see some tangible effects in the future. Personally, I'd agree with your view on the three aforementioned subjects.

(Original post by Fazzy_77)
I was actually just having a conversation with some friends about this last week. We all agreed that it was sad that we had to decide what field we wanted to go into at such an early age, especially when most young people still aren't sure about what they want to do in the future.

At gcse I enjoyed studying French and geography but decided against those subjects for A levels since they weren't necessary for me to do computer science at uni. Although you could argue that my subjects (maths, economics and chemistry) incorporates maths skills and essay skills, I still don't think it is very balanced.

The only problem with doing AS's in some subjects along with 3 A levels is that some would find that too stressful and time consuming. A levels are difficult enough on their own, adding an AS could just for the sake of balance could prove to be too difficult for some.

Instead, there should be some enrichment programme or something similar to encourage students to try new/different subjects like a new language. My school actually tried this last year but it was executed in an awful way so they scrapped it after a while.
Damn. I can understand where you are coming from. Mental health is an important issue. Schools would be abdicating their duty of care if they disregarded this potential side-effect of this increased workload. That being said, I am curious to know why other countries and the IB use a baccalaureate-style system. Maybe A Levels and even AS Levels are just that much deeper when it comes to content? It would be quite interesting to know why we're one of the few countries that use a system like this.
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Tolgash
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Bump 'cause I'm curious to see other people's perspectives.
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SkyRunner61
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I can already currently see some tangible effects - namely being able to speak and read Chinese to a decent level! I’ve also been linking it to my interest in science by learning about the periodic table and chemical nomenclature in Chinese, which I’m finding really interesting.

A Levels are deeper in terms of subject-specific content. The University Admissions Officers Report 2017 found that A Levels provide better subject expertise than the IB, which makes sense - if the IB were the equivalent of doing 6 A Levels, that would be a massive amount of work (and stress). Mind, the IB wins in terms of global outlook and encouraging independent inquiry, which will come from the foreign language requirement and then the extended essay.
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Tolgash
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(Original post by SkyRunner61)
I can already currently see some tangible effects - namely being able to speak and read Chinese to a decent level! I’ve also been linking it to my interest in science by learning about the periodic table and chemical nomenclature in Chinese, which I’m finding really interesting.
I like your way of going about things. Sounds very interesting as you said. Mamdarin is also looking set to become quite a significant language in the future, so you're setting yourself up well.

(Original post by SkyRunner61)
IA Levels are deeper in terms of subject-specific content. The University Admissions Officers Report 2017 found that A Levels provide better subject expertise than the IB, which makes sense - if the IB were the equivalent of doing 6 A Levels, that would be a massive amount of work (and stress). Mind, the IB wins in terms of global outlook and encouraging independent inquiry, which will come from the foreign language requirement and then the extended essay.
I was under the impression than an HL IB course and an A Level course were just about equal? This is news to me. I might want to try and find the report to read into it a little more.
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