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The University of Southampton
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The last few years have seen significant reform of UK qualifications, as GCSEs, AS Levels and A Levels in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have undergone review, alongside the Scottish Highers and the revised Welsh Baccalaureate. The 2017/2018 academic year will see the introduction of teaching to the final subjects to be reformed, which includes, amongst others, maths, philosophy and politics.  The decoupling of the AS Level from the A Level, in particular, has resulted in real uncertainty for schools and colleges and subsequent changes in their provision for students in their post-16 education.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) reported in January 2016 that, based on the survey they conducted, most schools and colleges (74%) were anticipating that they would offer AS Levels as standalone qualifications in some or all of the reformed A Level Subjects, but 21% would not. A large majority of schools and colleges planned to revisit their policy on AS level provision after all subjects had been reformed in 2017.

Through our work with schools and colleges, we have seen an increase in the number of institutions opting to reduce the number of subjects offered in the first year of A Level studies. Many have, or plan to, instead adopt a model of 3 A Level subjects plus an additional enrichment option, like the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). Whilst we very much support offering breadth within the curriculum, we fully appreciate that resources are stretched. We therefore remain committed to ensuring that no student will be disadvantaged by qualification reform with respect to university admissions. All typical offers from the University of Southampton consider 3 A Levels, not 3 A Levels plus an AS Level. Additionally, our EPQ offer, which now applies to a majority of our subject areas and sees one reduced A Level grade offer in lieu of an A or A* in the EPQ, is very much an alternative offer alongside a typical offer. This is designed to provide flexibility for students as well as highlighting the value, in terms of skillset, that the EPQ can provide, which we believe is entirely consistent with Higher Education.

Furthermore, we are confident that such models of delivery will not hinder students academically; rather that they may benefit. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that taking an EPQ alongside A Levels is associated with better degree performance compared to taking other AS Levels on top of A Levels or taking A Levels only (Gill, 2017). This is congruent with what we have seen in our own graduates, where greater proportions of students who have taken an EPQ before embarking upon degree level study are acquiring first class and upper second-class degrees. This is in comparison to their non-EPQ counterparts and is consistent across our eight faculties. As a result of these findings we are keen to continue supporting both the promotion and delivery of the EPQ in schools and colleges. Our team of research active transition officers can facilitate any step of the EPQ research process, complementing the existing taught skills programmes offered in schools and colleges across the UK.

For more information please see our website or contact Dr Emma Thompson, Learn with US Transition Leader via email:



Gill, T (2017) “Preparing students for university study: a statistical comparison of different post-16 qualifications” Research Papers in Education DOI: 10.1080/02671522.2017.1302498

UCAS (2016) “Unpacking Qualifications Reform: UCAS A Level survey – January 2016 update” available from: [accessed 28/08/2017]

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