Sixth Form Certificates
Schools in the UK offer several different qualifications to students completing their Sixth Form studies. These include the vocational BTECs (certificates awarded by the Business and Technology Education Council); the Cambridge Pre-U, which prepares learners for the skills and knowledge they need to succeed at university, and, in Scotland, the Scottish Highers, which provide certification for a broad general education and have been the main route to higher education since 1888. In this guide, however, we’d like to focus on the most popular certificates for students aged 16 to 19: the A Level and the IB Diploma.
The General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (to give the A Level its full name!) is the secondary school leaving qualification offered in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and in some Scottish schools as an alternative to the Scottish Advanced Higher. Generally studied over two years, some Sixth Form Colleges offer a fast-track, one-year A Level programme for particularly academically able students.
It is usual for candidates to select three, or a maximum of four, subjects, which means the A Level can be particularly well suited to students with marked academic strengths and weaknesses, as the programme allows them to play to those strengths. It also suits those with a clear idea of the nature of further education study they wish to embark upon after leaving school.
When selecting A Level subjects, it is important to give a good deal of thought to which degree subject the student is aiming for, as specific A Level subject combinations may be necessary for certain university courses. For the study of Medicine in the UK, for example, it would be common to select A Level Biology, Chemistry and Maths and / or Physics.
Students cover their three or four subjects in great depth, due to there being time within the Sixth Form timetable to dedicate to fewer subjects. The final qualification is graded on a scale of A*-E, with A* being the best mark obtainable.
The International Baccalaureate® Diploma Programme (IBDP) is, as the name suggests, offered and recognised around the world. An increasing number of British schools now offer the qualification either alongside or in place of the A Level programme.
The IBDP aims to develop students’ breadth and depth of knowledge, as they take a minimum of six academic subjects over two years: three subjects at Higher Level and three at Standard Level. The six subjects must consist of at least two languages, Mathematics, one Science, one Humanity and the sixth is a free choice. This leaves doors open in terms of future university study options.
In addition to their six chosen subjects, all students take part in three elements of what is known as the DP core. They explore the nature of knowledge in the programme’s Theory of Knowledge course (TOK); take part in a creative / social / community project, known as CAS (Creativity Action Service), and work on an extended essay (EE), which offers students the opportunity to investigate a topic of special interest to them, related to one of their six subjects.
Students receive a grade ranging from the highest score of 7 down to 1 for each DP subject attempted. The TOK and EE components are awarded individual grades and, collectively, can contribute up to three additional points towards the overall Diploma score. CAS does not contribute to the points total but authenticated participation is a requirement for the award of the diploma. The final result is made up of the combined scores, with the highest possible overall score being 45 points and the Diploma being awarded to students who gain at least 24 points.
That is British Sixth Form study in a nutshell but, naturally, if you’d like to know more or would appreciate discussing which course, in which school, would best suit your child, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Photo courtesy of King Edward's School Witley