New AQA AS / A-level Specifications

AQA published its new AS and A-level specifications in June 2015 in draft form. On its website, AQA state that they expect feedback from Ofqual on their submission during Autumn 2015, but as yet nothing has appeared to suggest that the draft specification has been accredited or whether Ofqual has insisted on changes.
Knowing the result of submissions in other subjects, I think it is highly likely that the latter is the case. However, in all probability, I expect that changes will be largely superficial, as most of the content has been dictated by Ofqual, and there appears to be limited variation between the different exam boards.

The main points about the AQA specification is that AS is now a separate qualification from A-level, with AS marks making no contribution to A-level. As a requirement from Ofqual, and in what appears to be an afterthought, the AS and A-level specifications are co-teachable. This means that in year 12, students taking the AS course can be in the same teaching group as those taking the A-level, so avoiding the logistical nightmare of having separate AS and A-levels classes in year 12.

Both the AS and A-level courses are 70% theory and 30% coursework, another Ofqual requirement, and so the same across all exam boards. The coursework is now to be called the NEA (Non-Examined Assessment). The coursework (sorry NEA!), now involves students performing or coaching (no more officiating) one practical activity (15%) and written analysis (15%), which is essentially a watered-down version of the current sections B and C. If there is no officiating, will this permit additional classroom teaching for the new theoretical content?

One interesting aspect of the AS and A-level drafts is that the detail of the practical assessment are exactly the same in each specification. In other words the A-level candidates could be assessed in year 12 with the AS candidates and their marks recorded for submission in year 13. There is also a very reduced (Ofqual again!) range of possible practical activities.

There is an increase in examinable theoretical content that reflects the increase to 70%; again, much of this is dictated by Ofqual. The assessment objectives for the new specifications have also changed. In the current PHED 1 and 3, the exams are 2/3 recall of knowledge and 1/3 application of that knowledge to practical/coaching scenarios. The new specifications have an additional assessment objective and a different weighting for both AS and A-level, meaning that the new specification’s exams have less factual recall, more application and much more analysis and evaluation.
So how will all these changes impact on our teaching? Are you able to decide during year 12 which of your students will do well in the summer AS exam and be progressing into year 13? Even more difficult, will you be able to decide in year 12 which of your students will not be able to cope with year 13 and would be best served by finishing the course at the end of year 12? When are you supposed to make that decision? When are you going to deliver / assess the coursework, especially the written coursework? Would centres be best served by entering a single candidate for the AS exam and then use that exam paper as the template for a ‘mock’ exam at the end of the summer term and then use those results to guide the students into or away from year 13 study? If centres do that, then we are back to the original situation that led to the existence of AS levels. Students could be leaving at the end of year 12 without any credit in the subject they studied.

The AS specification involves the studying of six different areas within sport and the A-level specification expands on that content. The six areas are:

1. Applied Anatomy and Physiology
2. Skill acquisition
3. Sport and society
4. Biomechanical movement
5. Sport psychology
6. Sport and society and the role of technology in physical activity and sport

As a rough estimate I’d suggest that about 80-90% of that content is the same or similar to that already being studied at AS and A-level, although some has moved from A2 to AS and vice-versa.

The exam at AS is still a 2 hour, 84 marks event, but the style of questions are different with a combination of multiple choice, short answer and extended writing questions and questions will include the use of data.

The new content in AS involves:

• Constructivism – social development theory (Vygotsky)
• Emergence of (female) performers in football, tennis and athletics
• Sociology definitions
• Centre of mass; stability
• Technology – match analysis
• Quantitative skills

Some A2 topics are now included in AS:

• Golden triangle and commercialisation
• PNF, glycogen loading, periodisation
• Newton’s Laws
• Individual psychology constructs
• Social facilitation; groups; goal-setting
• Role of technology

AQA have produced a specimen paper that shows the style of question we might expect in future exams.

The NEA requires both the AS and A-level students to perform or coach in ONE of those limited number of activities. The idea is that the students demonstrate or coach the core skills / techniques of the activity in a fully competitive situation. They are then assessed under similar headings to the current specification:

• AA1: Technical quality – aspect 1 (15 marks)
• AA2: Technical quality – aspect 2 (15 marks)
• AA3: Application of strategies/tactics (15 marks)

As now, DVD evidence is required for any activities that are outside the direct supervision of the centre and/or cannot be replicated at moderation, such as skiing, equestrianism, etc. Moderation appears to be much the same as currently, except that a DVD recording has to be made of moderation by the centre for evidence. The practical assessment is exactly the same at A-level and therefore a centre might consider getting the A-level assessment done in year 12. As tends to happen now, many centres will produce DVD evidence for most / all A2 activities. Possibly that may become a requirement!

The written component of the AS coursework involves the students analysing (20 marks) and evaluating (25 marks) a performance; which could be their own or somebody else. The analysis may be written, as the vast majority currently are, or presented via a combination of written and verbal explanation, e.g. expanding on a PowerPoint presentation through a recorded interview.

Students may choose to write about one cause / corrective measure (to show depth of knowledge) or may choose to discuss more than one relevant cause / corrective measure (to show breadth and depth). All causes and corrective measures must be from the theory content. More than one weakness in performance may be identified, but students must ‘analyse weaknesses consistently to meet bands in assessment criteria’. Not really sure what they are expecting there!

The written aspect of the NEA uses the same five descriptive bands as the practical assessment. For AS, the idea is for the student to identify one (or more) weakness(es) from Area of assessment 1, which for most activities are either attacking skills or event 1.

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The big question then becomes is it worth doing the AS coursework, because it has no weighting or worth for the A-level course! Doesn’t permitting exam leave for AS students detract from teaching time for the A-level? Even worse, what about the amount of time the AS students need to spend revising for the exam when they could be developing their knowledge for A-level? Is the AS course in any way worthwhile?

The A-level course contains the same theory as the AS course in year 12 plus extra for year 13 in all six areas. It has a different exam structure, two x 2 hour papers, each divided into three sections and within each section there appear to be 2 x multiple choice questions [2 marks]; 3-4 structured questions [10 marks]; two extended question [8 / 15 marks = 35 x 3 = 105 marks].

The course structure has the same overall weightings of 70% theory / 30% coursework. There is additional theory content, but the same practical coursework, except that for the written part of the NEA, students must analyse two areas of assessment, 2 and 3.

The theoretical content is again 80-90% the same as now, except for:

• Whiting’s Information Processing model
• Baddeley and Hitch’s working memory model
• Biomechanics units, definitions and equations
• Dynamic fluid force, drag and the Bernoulli principle
• Vealey’s model of self-confidence.
• Psychological skills training (PST) as cognitive stress management technique
• Data analysis and sports analytics

So where does that leave us? The content looks vaguely reassuring in that it can be quickly recognised as the same stuff, with a few additional topics, and some departures; sliding filament, distraction conflict theory, profile of mood states to name three.

Coursework is essentially the same, and the idea of a single activity is balanced by no officiating. But what about standards? Will we see the need for the only very good performers/coaches being able to attain the standards required by AQA? Currently, I cannot foresee a great demand for the AS course. Why spend time doing the coursework, revising for the exam and sitting the exam if the result has no influence on the A-level grade?

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