Update on A-Level Philosophy

Posted by Edward Willatt on Sunday, February 2, 2014 Under: A-level Philosophy

The British Philosophical Association has posted a statement on its website concerning the proposed changes to the AQA A-level Philosophy specification.  In my last post I criticised the proposals for the restrictions they place on the areas of philosophy that can be studied and their similarity to the religious studies A-levels.  The BPA offer a defence of the proposed changes which refers to urgent problems with the current specification.

Many concerns have been raised about the clarity of the current mark scheme and exam questions being too open ended.  The BPA has been consulted about the proposals by AQA and agrees that there must be less content if these concerns are be addressed.  They explain that this is the beginning of further revisions to the A-level which will be informed by consultation with the BPA and teachers.  The modules now proposed are intended to represent the areas of philosophy that are taught at university and popular with schools.  The BPA are optimistic about the prospects for bringing together philosophy in schools and universities through the ongoing changes to the A-level specification.  They argue that…

‘[The proposed specification] provides exposure to philosophy in a form which gives a realistic  impression of what degree level study is like, provides those who take it with essential skills, and ensures that there are teachers with a good understanding of the discipline available to advise all students on their university choices’.

It is certainly a good ambition to ensure that teachers have a ‘good understanding’ of philosophy.  However, I wonder if this can be achieved by revising the specification.  Surely it is the time to study a subject and continue exploring it while teaching that allows teachers to fully maintain their understanding and enthusiasm.  Increasingly training for teachers only concerns generic teaching skills rather than providing opportunities for ongoing engagement with the subject they teach.  It is certainly true that clearer mark schemes help everyone because A-levels need to be marked in the same way for all candidates.  The BPA statement does make a good case for the refinement of exam questions and the mark scheme.  It is not good to confine a disciple within forms of assessment that do not match the skills and methods of that discipline.  The mark scheme and questions have been change in recent years to cope with problems and now a thorough re-think seems to be underway. 

The BPA statement claims that the compulsory ethics and philosophy of religion components of the proposed new specification need to be clearly distinguished in their content and assessment criteria from similar modules in the religious studies A-levels.  I doubt whether this would dissuade schools which offer both A-level philosophy and A-level religious studies from dropping one of the two.  It is true that distinctions could be made between the way philosophy and religious studies approach these areas.  For example, philosophy A-level would not make close reference to the bible in its study of ethics while religious studies would take into account religious texts and traditions to a much greater extent.  However, if half of the philosophy A-level is so similar to the religious studies A-level I think that schools will be inclined to question the need for the two courses.  Many schools currently offer religious studies A-level using religious philosophy and ethics modules and refer to it as a ‘philosophy and ethics’ course.  Why should they be interested in an A-level in philosophy which would appear to emphasise the same areas?  The BPA acknowledges that temporarily decreasing the areas of philosophy available on the specification is ‘not ideal’.  My worry is that they do not recognise the dangers.  Even though this move is intended to allow for course content and mark schemes to be fully improved it could result in a fewer schools offering the qualification and have long term consequences for its survival.  Philosophy at A-level needs to be distinguished from other subjects and to stand out as a unique and worthwhile endeavor.  

In : A-level Philosophy 



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Update on A-Level Philosophy

Posted by Edward Willatt on Sunday, February 2, 2014 Under: A-level Philosophy

The British Philosophical Association has posted a statement on its website concerning the proposed changes to the AQA A-level Philosophy specification.  In my last post I criticised the proposals for the restrictions they place on the areas of philosophy that can be studied and their similarity to the religious studies A-levels.  The BPA offer a defence of the proposed changes which refers to urgent problems with the current specification.

Many concerns have been raised about the clarity of the current mark scheme and exam questions being too open ended.  The BPA has been consulted about the proposals by AQA and agrees that there must be less content if these concerns are be addressed.  They explain that this is the beginning of further revisions to the A-level which will be informed by consultation with the BPA and teachers.  The modules now proposed are intended to represent the areas of philosophy that are taught at university and popular with schools.  The BPA are optimistic about the prospects for bringing together philosophy in schools and universities through the ongoing changes to the A-level specification.  They argue that…

‘[The proposed specification] provides exposure to philosophy in a form which gives a realistic  impression of what degree level study is like, provides those who take it with essential skills, and ensures that there are teachers with a good understanding of the discipline available to advise all students on their university choices’.

It is certainly a good ambition to ensure that teachers have a ‘good understanding’ of philosophy.  However, I wonder if this can be achieved by revising the specification.  Surely it is the time to study a subject and continue exploring it while teaching that allows teachers to fully maintain their understanding and enthusiasm.  Increasingly training for teachers only concerns generic teaching skills rather than providing opportunities for ongoing engagement with the subject they teach.  It is certainly true that clearer mark schemes help everyone because A-levels need to be marked in the same way for all candidates.  The BPA statement does make a good case for the refinement of exam questions and the mark scheme.  It is not good to confine a disciple within forms of assessment that do not match the skills and methods of that discipline.  The mark scheme and questions have been change in recent years to cope with problems and now a thorough re-think seems to be underway. 

The BPA statement claims that the compulsory ethics and philosophy of religion components of the proposed new specification need to be clearly distinguished in their content and assessment criteria from similar modules in the religious studies A-levels.  I doubt whether this would dissuade schools which offer both A-level philosophy and A-level religious studies from dropping one of the two.  It is true that distinctions could be made between the way philosophy and religious studies approach these areas.  For example, philosophy A-level would not make close reference to the bible in its study of ethics while religious studies would take into account religious texts and traditions to a much greater extent.  However, if half of the philosophy A-level is so similar to the religious studies A-level I think that schools will be inclined to question the need for the two courses.  Many schools currently offer religious studies A-level using religious philosophy and ethics modules and refer to it as a ‘philosophy and ethics’ course.  Why should they be interested in an A-level in philosophy which would appear to emphasise the same areas?  The BPA acknowledges that temporarily decreasing the areas of philosophy available on the specification is ‘not ideal’.  My worry is that they do not recognise the dangers.  Even though this move is intended to allow for course content and mark schemes to be fully improved it could result in a fewer schools offering the qualification and have long term consequences for its survival.  Philosophy at A-level needs to be distinguished from other subjects and to stand out as a unique and worthwhile endeavor.  

In : A-level Philosophy 



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