A Level Choices and "facilitating subjects"

(62 Posts)
Phaedra11 Sat 08-Feb-14 10:00:42

My son is in Year 11 at a local state school which doesn't have a sixth college. He hopes to continue with A levels at the nearby sixth college which has a very good reputation. The A levels he wishes to do are: English Lit, Law, Sociology and IT. I am aware that A level Law is widely thought of as irreverent, even if you go on to study Law at university but he really wants to do it, partly because he thinks it would show him whether he does want to pursue it further and also he's really attracted to the mock trials that the college participates in. He wants to study the other subjects because he enjoys them.

I've always thought that studying the subjects you have a passion for was the best bet, but was concerned to read on another thread that to stand a chance of getting into a decent university, you need to have A levels in two facilitating/traditional subjects. I assume English Lit would qualify but not the others. He definitely does not want to study Maths or Sciences, though he already has A grades in GCSE Maths and Biology and is predicted As for Chemistry, Physics and Further Maths. History is a possibility but I know he would rather study the other subjects and I have been told by a friend with insider knowledge that the teaching of History at the college has been comparatively weak recently with a fast turnover of history staff.

I don't know whether to say anything to DS about this or not. He is already feeling the pressure of imminent GCSEs. We did discuss initially whether History might be a better option if he does go further with Law but in the end he decided against it. I think it is possible/quite likely that he would achieve better grades in the subjects he prefers. He has no particular ambitions for Oxbridge but does hope to go to university. The school has given guidance on applying for college but not on A level choices. The Sixth Form college has said that they are flexible about A level choices at this point and it is quite possible to change options in the initial induction period.

Any advice?

Dreamgirls234 Sat 08-Feb-14 10:10:48

Hi
What would your son like to read at uni?
My daughter is in year10 and would like to read law and politics at Oxford or Cambridge. And everywhere we do they say take traditional hard subjects. My daughter does gcse sociology and it isn't really a enriching subject and isn't considered a hard subject. If he's unsure about what he wants to do he is better taking facilitating subjects as they offer more options to study a variety of degrees. But it's entirely up to him as some of these courses can have a lot of essay writing espicially sociology. GoodLuck

Dreamgirls234 Sat 08-Feb-14 10:13:15

http://russellgroup.org/InformedChoices-latest.pdf

Take a look at this website really good for him

sassytheFIRST Sat 08-Feb-14 10:16:55

Depends how able he is and what kind of uni he would be aiming for. Russell group and Oxbridge wouldn't look at him with those subjects ( unless poss for IT subject), however he could get onto Law course at a midrange ex poly e.g. Staffordshire, uni west of England etc.

I'd recommend dropping one in favor of a traditionally tougher subject if he is academic enough - history, geog, philosophy etc would also keep his options wider at this stage.

A level law is v v dry, btw....

Saharap2 Sat 08-Feb-14 10:23:42

I think that's scaremongering to say only ex polys will look at him with those subjects. If he gets straight As in those subjects I don't think he will be restricted to the polys.

Yes it would probably be good to add another more traditional subject but law and sociology are not as bad as some people are making out. They are essay based subjects which require a decent level of analytical thinking.

senua Sat 08-Feb-14 10:30:41

Try to get him to think about what he wants to read at University. If he has some idea of the subject then he can start reading admissions criteria. He can then see for himself whether his choices will stand up.

Has he already studied Sociology? To go for two not-previously-studied subjects (Law & Sociology) is a bit risky.

Dreamgirls234 Sat 08-Feb-14 10:45:53

I agree with senu
My daughters sixth form school say if they take sociology alevel they must have done either sociology or some strong type of analytical subject and have a B above in the subject. It is a good subject but not as good as you may think. He's best to look at some unis he likes and see there admission criterial that way he can see what he needs. Although it's always best to keep options open as they change their minds a lot. History is a excellent alevel as it broadens there mind and allows them to think outside the box and develop many skills. It's also well regarded at many universities

It sounds as if you've had exactly the right conversation with your DS Phaedra. The Russell Group Informed Choices document is worth reading to see what the fussiest universities prefer by way of A level subjects.
To look at actual uni requirements, look at www.ucas.com.

You may find this website useful too. You can input A level subjects, and see what degrees they lead to, and look at career options (and salaries!) afterwards: www.bestcourse4me.com/

Phaedra11 Sat 08-Feb-14 11:21:08

Thank you, everyone. That RG document is really useful, thanks dream girls. DS is academic and is predicted As and A*s for his GCSEs. He is studying Sociology GCSE and was quite surprised to hear it isn't considered a serious subject as he has watched my younger brother who has a Sociology degree, gain his PHD and lecture at universities around the world.

I've just a chat with DS about where he eventually hopes to go with his qualifications and what degree he might take. He said he's thinking Law or Computers though possibly now veering away from Law because he knows about competitive it is and how long and expensive the training is. He's now browsing through UCAS courses and has just told me that he's now considering doing Classical Civilisation instead of Sociology!!

Suffolkgirl1 Sat 08-Feb-14 11:46:46

What about Religion, Philosophy and Ethics rather than the sociology? DD who is considering Law has been recommended it.

ISingSoprano Sat 08-Feb-14 13:25:02

I think the point is at 15/16/17+ they often do change their minds about which degree or career to follow. It's all about keeping as many doors open as possible. Dd is in year 11 and about to go to sixth form too - it's fair to say we have been around the houses and back again in deciding which subjects to choose!

eatyourveg Sun 09-Feb-14 07:51:28

This was handed out to ds on one of his 6th form open evenings

BeckAndCall Sun 09-Feb-14 08:31:04

That's a really interesting link, eat. - I've never seen that before.

So a Law A level is a perfectly good A level if you want to do a law degree at a Russell university. What it doesn't say, though, is that a Law A level would be OK as a facilitating subject for any other degree. ( just summarising for those who haven't followed the link. And for no reason because all of my DC are past the options stage!)

senua Sun 09-Feb-14 08:46:43

Really interesting because it seems to go against 'received wisdom'.
It's strange that it's not dated. A quick google seems to imply that it is from 2009.

wordfactory Sun 09-Feb-14 08:53:02

Personally, I would still be very sceptical about how many of the most selective universities actually make offers to those with A level law.

There is quite a big gap between what the universities say is the least they will accept and what they actually favour IMVHO

mysteryfairy Sun 09-Feb-14 09:01:15

This might be a weird suggestion but have a look at the grade statistics for those subjects at wherever he is going. When we looked at local sixth form college there was a general trend for the softer subjects to have lower grades. I don't think this necessarily relates to quality if teaching but actually to the type of students that typically take them. If your DS is very academic he made find it frustrating to go at a slow pace to cater for less academic students.

I work in IT and I don't see ICT being rated as an A level when we recruit. Computer science useful if you want a technical role though the real techie types seem to have done a lot more coding/building hardware etc for leisure than would ever be delivered in an A Level anyway.

LightastheBreeze Sun 09-Feb-14 09:12:47

DS is doing a Physics degree at a RG university and he took Law A level, found it very interesting and got an A. It did not seem to stop him getting offers for Physics from the other RG universities he applied too either. In fact they seemed interested on his interviews that he had done a subject that seemed very different from the normal science /maths subjects.

eatyourveg Sun 09-Feb-14 09:59:06

2009 seems about right as it was 2010 when we were doing the rounds of 6th forms and ds was thinking of doing law at uni

The latest advice suggests that for most Russell Group courses, only one or two facilitating subjects are required. That leaves one or two other subjects, which could include Law. The advice specifically for entry to Law degrees, from the Informed Choices booklet:

"ESSENTIAL ADVANCED LEVEL QUALIFICATIONS
Usually none, although a few universities require English.
USEFUL ADVANCED LEVEL QUALIFICATIONS History; other facilitating subjects.
There really are no essential subjects for Law. Maybe one choice should involve essay or report writing. History gives you good relevant skills for Law but is not essential."

Phaedra11 Sun 09-Feb-14 13:11:59

Thank you everyone for your help. Eatyourveg (iPad wanted to correct your name to easy purvey!), that link was appreciated and thanks again for your other message.

Thank you, Careers Dragon for sharing your knowledge and expertise. I feel lucky to have input from an actual careers dragon adviser!

ISing, you were spot on about changing minds. If DS knew for sure what he wanted to do, it would be much easier to plan a route to getting there. But hey, he is only 15!

We have talked and DS is happy to change Sociology for another subject. It turns out he has set his heart on Law, English Lit and ICT but is ambivalent about Sociology, especially now he realises it doesn't have the status of some other subjects and is happy to change it to a more acceptable subject which fits in with his possible ambitions. He's considering two possible options at the moment.

We also had a look at this list which I found via another thread? DS has no particular plans for Cambridge but it was interesting as an example of how a prestigious university might view things. It lists Law A level as acceptable only when applying for a Law degree which fits in with what others are saying. We also found it useful to look at the UCAS website and the requirements of other universities.

Thanks again everyone. I was panicking slightly yesterday. I'm only an occasional visitor to Mumsnet and don't think I'd ever visited the Secondary Education thread before. I'd never heard of Facilitating Subjects or Russell Group universities and was beginning to feel like a really rubbish mum for not sorting this out for DS ages ago! Anyway, panic over, we can now continue, all informed and prepared!

TalkinPeace Sun 09-Feb-14 13:33:41

Surely the main point of "facilitating subjects" is that they are just broad brush academically rigorous that then let you transfer those skills to other areas

My A's were Maths, Physics and Geography
I did a Geography degree
and am now an Accountant

its all about keeping as many doors open for as long as possible
I can see that Sociology is very "narrowing"
As it IT (rather than maths)
But Law - if the syllabus is rigorous - would teach analytical thinking methods that would be applicable in many walks of life

HmmAnOxfordComma Sun 09-Feb-14 13:52:23

I think it's worth considering maths instead of IT if he's in any way good enough to get a decent grade in it.

Would be better for computing degrees and law, I suspect, as well as many other options.

English and maths would be two facilitating subjects, then two more (law and sociology? Or law and ict?) would keep his interests covered.

Phaedra11 Sun 09-Feb-14 14:32:26

I have suggested Maths as an option but he's not keen. I think one problem is that he knows some real Maths geeks (his younger brother is one) who love Maths and feels he couldn't compete with them at a higher level. He is good enough to have gained an A in GCSE Maths last year and to be put forward for Further Maths this year but he doesn't feel he could go much further. I discovered yesterday that this is also linked with his uncertainty about continuing with Computers/ICT. He and DS2 are bedroom programmers, really into coding and creating little games. DS1 loves all that but is worried that he might reach a plateau with his understanding and not be able to compete with the geniuses! He can't resist the opportunity to study ICT at college though. The syllabus looks right up his street and I don't think anything I could say would put him off.

His real strengths are with the Art subjects where he is predicted A*s. He is very articulate and got the top possible marks for his speaking assessments. I think he has all the right qualities to go into Law. The thing that stops him being absolutely committed to that is that we know plenty of Law graduates and he is very aware of what full training in Law involves.

antimatter Sun 09-Feb-14 14:53:33

Have look which IT degrees would consider student without Maths A level.
I can guess none of good unis as far as Comouter Science is concerned.

Phaedra11 Sun 09-Feb-14 15:01:44

We did look yesterday actually! That was when he told me that he wasn't planning to go further with Computers anyway (for reasons above) but he can't seem to give it up completely either.

I know, I know but there are limits to my influence!

DS2 will be much easier when it's his turn - loves Computers, Maths and Physics - not so keen on Arts subjects/writing essays.

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