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PDR
1336844.  Wed Nov 20, 2019 5:13 am Reply with quote

I spent last night running an Open Evening on our Level 6 (degree) Engineering Apprenticeship schemes. It's a good deal - people come in with A-levels or equivilent*, start on 24k and over the next 4 years do work, an honours degree on block release, a level 4 diploma aligned to fUKSpec and "enrichment opportunities". After 4 years they graduate as a qualified and experienced engineer who is close to I.Eng standard and although we don't guarrantee it they are likely to be offered a job that they want (so far it's been 100%) with a significant pay rise putting them over 30k. And they have NO STUDENT DEBT because we pay for everything as well as paying the salary. The downside is that (a) we dictate the particular degree course (because it's part of the government accreditation) and (b) it is quite hard work.

Places on the schemes are sought-after (I think we pay too much!), so last night was the first of three where we were briefing to a room with 40-ish potehtial applicants, about 2/3rds of them bringing their parents along.

All of this is good.

AFter the presentations and demos we had the "come and talk to us" period, and the main question was usually "I am doing XXXX A-level/BTec/WHY; is that enough to get on the scheme?". ANd with far too many of them the answer was "unfortunately not" because someone somewhere has told them that rational choices for A-Levels are things like "Maths and Sports" or "Computer Science and Sports", or even "Maths and Music Media".

I mean what the actual fuck??? (as AFB would say) WHo is advising these people FFS! Who is suggesting to them that it really doesn't matter what the actual subjects they take?

When did "Sports" become seen as an A-level subject for anything but aspiring PE teachers or footballists?

Hurrumph!

PDR

* nothing stringent, just 96 UCAS points including two STEM subjects because our main selection criteria are how they come over in interview - we explicitly don't look to only take the brightest)

 
crissdee
1336848.  Wed Nov 20, 2019 5:31 am Reply with quote

Totally see your point PDR. Back when we were at school (you know, in the Dark Ages!) this would never have been a problem because (afaik) such subjects just were not available to "study". I cannot speak from experience, as I just wanted to get TF out of school and into work, but those of my contemporaries who did stay on were all doing Maths, English, History etc.....

 
suze
1336897.  Wed Nov 20, 2019 12:14 pm Reply with quote

There are issues with A level Sports Studies and A level Physical Education (pretty much the same syllabus, but different examining boards call it different things) from both ends.

From one end, it's closer to being a "real science subject" than PDR perhaps realises. The science content is inevitably mostly Biology, which is probably the least useful of the science subjects to him, but some of it actually goes beyond what is needed for A level Biology. From the other end, maybe the subject is wrongly named and a different name would make clearer to PDR and others what it's really about.

Rather few professional footballists have A levels at all, but someone who aspires to being a PE teacher or a physiotherapist might well take this subject at A level. On the other hand, degree courses in this field never require the A level for entry; it is accepted, but so are A levels in conventional science subjects.

My school doesn't offer this subject at A level, although that's mainly because it tends to be a boy thing. We have a small handful of girls (three, if I'm looking in the right place) who go to our partner boys' school to take it - although it may be telling that neither of the international sportswomen that we currently have in the sixth form is taking it.


Music is rather different. A level Music usually is required of those who seek to study Music at a higher level, so the advice "take a proper subject instead" is less appropriate than it is re Sports Studies.

It is a policy of Cambridge University that A level Music is accepted as a "proper A level subject" when considering applications for all subjects. Not all universities think the same way about this though, and at my school we would usually advise anyone who wants to take A level Music to take it as a fourth subject, not as one of three. Since we have our Sixth Form Options Evening this very evening, I may get to have that very conversation!

By the by, it is very common for those who take A level Music also to take Mathematics.

 
PDR
1336901.  Wed Nov 20, 2019 12:24 pm Reply with quote

To be clear - I have no problem with Music being a valid A-level subject (although the one described tpo me last night was actually a BTEC in "Music Media Studies" on which I might have other views). I also have no problem at all with the idea of taking Music and Maths as a precursor to a career (or just further education) as a Music Professional (performer, composer, conductor etc). But the person I was speaking to had no such plan - he had always intended to go into engineering, but his school had apparently told him that he should choose "one A-level for his career and one for 'interest' ", which is just plain barking.

Thanks for the pointer on the Sports thing. The girl in question will be emailing me the details of her actual course so that I could check it against the accreditation mandates. If it's accredited, of potentially could be accredited, I may be able to go back to her with more encouraging news.

PDR

 
suze
1336907.  Wed Nov 20, 2019 12:47 pm Reply with quote

PDR wrote:
The one described to me last night was actually a BTEC in "Music Media Studies" on which I might have other views.


And with good cause, probably.

There are absolutely hundreds of BTEC courses available, and finding out what a particular one involves is a task that I would delegate if it were to arise. But there are only about fifty A level subjects in existence, and I probably do more or less know what each of them is about.

A level Music is a course on which you will write essays about Beethoven, and you will perform bits of his work on your chosen instrument. That is the one which Cambridge is absolutely satisfied is a real subject.

But there is also A level Music Technology. That is a course on which you will make a dozen remixes of yourself playing Twinkle twinkle little star on a Casio keyboard. It sounds like a course aimed at those who aspire to be producers, but no less of a person than Simon Cowell thinks that the syllabus is crap.

Edexcel freely admits that it took most of the music theory out of this course because the students found it too hard. Yet the popular music industry tends to think that a young person who wants to twiddle knobs for Mr Cowell would do better to get a qualification in IT or Electronics and then read a music theory book. It is not generally accepted as a "proper A level" by universities.

PDR wrote:
But his school had apparently told him that he should choose "one A-level for his career and one for 'interest' ", which is just plain barking.


That is not only Barking, but quite possibly Dagenham as well.

I'm quite happy if a girl wants to take (say) GCSE Art because she's interested in painting, even if it's not relevant to her future aspirations. One subject at GCSE, no problem at all. One of three A levels, absolutely not.


And now I must get myself organised, because I cannot return to school wearing the same outfit that I wore in class earlier today!

 
Jenny
1336910.  Wed Nov 20, 2019 12:59 pm Reply with quote

In 1968 I took A levels in History, English, Biology and Art. I got As at O level in History and English, and Cs in Biology and Art, which I took because I was interested in and enjoyed them.

My degree was a Combined Arts degree - one of the early modular degrees at Leicester University, in which you did your major subject (English in my case) for all three years, your minors (in my case History and American Studies, which was half history and half literature) for two overlapping years, and a minor that was a one year course that had to be outside your major faculty, so I did Psychology, again just out of interest. My MA was in modern English and American literature though.

I loved that combination of subjects, and am glad that back then we didn't have quite such Gradgrindian necessity to be severely workful.

 
PDR
1336913.  Wed Nov 20, 2019 1:13 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:

A level Music is a course on which you will write essays about Beethoven, and you will perform bits of his work on your chosen instrument. That is the one which Cambridge is absolutely satisfied is a real subject.


That's what I'd been assuming. In 1976 I got an A in O-level Music (it may surprise you to learn) for two reasons* - the way the options were grouped it was either that or RE, and as I already had grade 6 in Piano and Clarinet I got a waiver on the performance and music theory parts of the course making it a bit of a doss (just had to do a very small amount of stuff so that I could tell my classical from my baroque, as t'were). But the whole course included performance, theory (including taking muwsical dictation and doing composition) and history of music and was (for others) a serious subject and I was assuming the A-level was similar but more so.

Quote:

That is not only Barking, but quite possibly Dagenham as well.

I'm quite happy if a girl wants to take (say) GCSE Art because she's interested in painting, even if it's not relevant to her future aspirations. One subject at GCSE, no problem at all. One of three A levels, absolutely not.


Well quite. I'm trying to change our process such that the focus of our "schools outreach" extends much more into the pre-A-level stage so we can (hopefully) influence kids to choose the *right** A-levels for what they want to do.


Quote:
And now I must get myself organised, because I cannot return to school wearing the same outfit that I wore in class earlier today!


What is it that you are prepared to wear for your girls, but not in front of their parents? The mind boggles...

:0)

PDR

 
crissdee
1336920.  Wed Nov 20, 2019 4:28 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:
Simon Cowell thinks that the syllabus is crap.


In fairness, few people on earth have more experience of crap than Simon Cowell, and it is only right that we bow to his superior knowledge..........

 
suze
1336928.  Wed Nov 20, 2019 6:32 pm Reply with quote

Well indeed! But whatever one thinks of Mr Cowell, he's worth north of 400 million and he understands the popular music industry better than most. If he doesn't think that that course is fit for purpose, he's probably right.


Jenny wrote:
I loved that combination of subjects, and am glad that back then we didn't have quite such Gradgrindian necessity to be severely workful.


I'd imagine that the combination of A levels that you took was considered a bit left-field at the time, and that's not because of the presence of Art as a fourth subject. Much as it tries (less than convincingly) to deny this from time to time, Oxford rather expects its applicants to be taking four mainstream academic subjects at A level. But no other British university does, and unless a student is particularly keen on Oxford I wouldn't seek to put her off taking three mainstream academic subjects plus something like Art or Music.

The left-fieldness, though, was the inclusion of Biology alongside three Arts subjects. Back in the day that was considered a bit unusual, and the school that the good husband went to actually didn't allow it. Very few if any schools would counsel against it today, so in some ways the system is less Gradgrindian now than formerly.

The Russell Group is keen on talking about what it calls "facilitating subjects". While it stops short of actually recommending this, it "suggests" that people choosing their A level subjects "might like to consider" taking at least two of these so-called facilitating subjects. They are Biology, Chemistry, Eng Lit, French, History, Latin, Mathematics, and Physics.

I'm not planning to go through our entire sixth form to see if everyone is indeed taking at least two from that list, but tbh I'd be surprised if it is not so.



PDR wrote:
Well quite. I'm trying to change our process such that the focus of our "schools outreach" extends much more into the pre-A-level stage so we can (hopefully) influence kids to choose the *right** A-levels for what they want to do.


What an excellent idea that is, but you probably need to start by telling schools. Our visiting careers advisor was at the event this evening (which must have cost the Head a bob or two, because she's hourly rate), and she can answer questions about what A levels you ought to take if you want to be an embalmer. The Head and I can both answer questions about what A levels you ought to take if you want to read Ancient Egyptian at university. But your recent experience suggests that not all schools do have people with that information, so that's where the process might need to begin.


PDR wrote:
What is it that you are prepared to wear for your girls, but not in front of their parents? The mind boggles...


There is an answer to that which I won't give here because it might cause unnecessariness.

But in fact, it's just that I contrived to write on my shirt in class today, so I really needed to wear a different one this evening.

 
Leith
1336929.  Wed Nov 20, 2019 6:48 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:
But there is also A level Music Technology. That is a course on which you will make a dozen remixes of yourself playing Twinkle twinkle little star on a Casio keyboard. It sounds like a course aimed at those who aspire to be producers, but no less of a person than Simon Cowell thinks that the syllabus is crap.

Edexcel freely admits that it took most of the music theory out of this course because the students found it too hard. Yet the popular music industry tends to think that a young person who wants to twiddle knobs for Mr Cowell would do better to get a qualification in IT or Electronics and then read a music theory book. It is not generally accepted as a "proper A level" by universities.

I'll take Mr Cowell's and academia's word for the usefulness of that particular syllabus, but in principle there is plenty in the way of applicable engineering skills to be gained in learning about music production.

When I first started working with radar simulators and calibration transponders, I found that a lot of the required waveform modeling, sequencing, mixing and filtering could employ very similar techniques to the ones I'd learned mucking about with a home studio at university.

Similarly much of what I know about signal processing, analog/digital conversion and DSP programming in scientific instruments was made a lot easier to learn by having a basic familiarity with those topics from the pages of Computer Music magazine.

It's a shame they've dropped the music theory component, though - being able to demonstrate that sort of facility for abstract pattern-matching would have added another useful dimension to the qualification.

I doubt I'd have quite got away with substituting learning about music production for, say, my physics A level, but it has come in surprisingly useful in my career (which is just as well, as I never did really get the hang of stitching a decent piece of music together).

 
suze
1336930.  Wed Nov 20, 2019 8:23 pm Reply with quote

Mr Cowell hasn't written an essay on the matter. He has done no more than pass comment to journalists who might already have hinted as to what they wanted to hear.

Here, though, is an essay which has been written on the subject.

The author acknowledges that he is an American and that he doesn't much like the British A level system in general, but at the same time he finds some fairly big holes in the content.

His piece refers to "one Music Technology A Level syllabus". In fact, there is only one - Edexcel is the only one of the five A level examining boards to offer this subject. All five offer the more traditional A level Music.


And finally, I said earlier that there are "about fifty" subjects available for A level. It turns out that there are actually sixty two, although one of these is only available in Northern Ireland (Irish, which de facto is only offered in Catholic schools in NI), and two only in Wales (Welsh, and more surprisingly Electronics).

 
Awitt
1336932.  Wed Nov 20, 2019 9:02 pm Reply with quote

PDR wrote:
Quote:
one A-level for his career and one for 'interest'


Things are different here in Aus, but 25 years ago when I was in my final years of school, my state, thanks to a premier who was a teacher, devised a completely new overhauled two year program for Years 11 and 12, complete with name/acronym change from the old and with subjects grouped into arts, humanities etc.

At that time I had to have at least one subject from each group so couldn't do two in one group. Didn't seem fair to me since I wasn't interested in what was then called Information Technology but I had to do it as I didn't do maths in my final year.

 
Jenny
1336984.  Thu Nov 21, 2019 10:31 am Reply with quote

Suze - yes, it was distinctly left field, and in those days most people didn't take more than three A levels, so I think it was the fact that the fourth was Art enabled me to get away with it. When I applied to university, Art basically didn't count. I think the fact that I went to a technical high school rather than a traditional grammar school probably helped.

Perhaps I'm just innately left-field :-)


Last edited by Jenny on Thu Nov 21, 2019 4:47 pm; edited 1 time in total

 
cornixt
1336989.  Thu Nov 21, 2019 11:11 am Reply with quote

There's probably only about 10-15 subjects that anyone should take at A-level, with an aim at further education for their more specialised interests. Schools actually offering the more obscure and ignored-for-entry-requirements subjects are partly to blame for giving them some sort of legitimacy. Pointing out at students are taking combos that will get them nowhere would help.

 
suze
1336998.  Thu Nov 21, 2019 12:29 pm Reply with quote

Awitt wrote:
At that time I had to have at least one subject from each group so couldn't do two in one group. Didn't seem fair to me since I wasn't interested in what was then called Information Technology but I had to do it as I didn't do maths in my final year.


The systems are different again in British Columbia where I went to school, but BC has something like that.

It is usual to take six subjects from 16-18 (plus PE, which is compulsory and counts towards the final grading). Everyone must take English and Math in some form, and then choose their other subjects from groups. There must be at least one science subject (under a definition which includes Geography), at least one subject based on either foreign languages or history, and at least one "Applied Skills" subject. That last thing includes Art, Music, and the like, and my choice from that group was Drama. It's no longer the case, but Computer Programming was quite a new thing in schools back in '84 and it too was classified as "Applied Skills". Quite a lot of boys (in particular) who really didn't want to do anything creative chose it.

I actually prefer this system to the system used in England where one takes three or four subjects from 16 to 18 and can drop one side completely. But it only really works if degree courses are by default four years rather than three, and there seems not to be much appetite for that here.


cornixt wrote:
There's probably only about 10-15 subjects that anyone should take at A-level, with an aim at further education for their more specialised interests. Schools actually offering the more obscure and ignored-for-entry-requirements subjects are partly to blame for giving them some sort of legitimacy. Pointing out at students are taking combos that will get them nowhere would help.


cornixt, come and work in a grammar school !

We absolutely do counsel against a combination of subjects that won't get the student anywhere, but a lot of comprehensive schools seem not to.

As a reasonably well off school we are able to offer all of the subjects that would be on that list of 10-15, and it's not entirely their own fault that some schools aren't.

So they may only offer that number of subjects at A level, but some of them are the less well regarded ones. The school's advice to a pupil who wants to take a combination that it cannot facilitate ought to be "Maybe look at a different school", and it's by no means rare for a student to change schools at 16 for just that reason. But too often the school does not make that suggestion, the student doesn't either because she doesn't know that you can change schools at 16, and so the student is forced into a combination that isn't really what she wanted and may prove unhelpful.

 

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