The case for four A levels

The vast majority of Oundle School pupils start the Lower Sixth Form studying four A level or Pre-U subjects.

Of these, over 90% drop one subject before the end of the year, but unlike at many other schools, you are not allowed to drop a subject before the end of the second term of the Lower Sixth.

The vast majority of Oundelians also choose to take a fifth subject in the form of an extension course, with most opting for an Extended Project Qualification or a Quadrivium course.

To prepare for this article and the next, Charles Aldous and myself interviewed the Deputy Head Academic,

Mr Iain Smith, who gave us his take on why Oundle School takes such a standpoint. Firstly, we all know that Oundle School is an academic school.

There is but a tiny minority of pupils who are unable to cope with studying four subjects up until the Easter of the Lower Sixth.

That is important to note and keep in mind whilst I present to you the arguments why doing four A levels for two full terms of the Lower Sixth Form is undoubtedly beneficial for academically able pupils – in other words, most Oundelians.

The first pillar of my argument, and something about which Mr Smith was very passionate, was diversity and breadth.

Oundle School has a uniquely wide variety of subjects (around 30) on offer at A level,

and it is in fact highly unusual for pupils coming into the Sixth Form to know for sure what they want to study, and indeed continue later in life.

There is certainly an emphasis, in terms of the extension course, on education as a more general and abstract experience rather than a formulaic acquirement of grades; the School does not want to be an “exam factory”,

but rather allows pursuits for academic interest and curiosity on top of A level studies.

It is for this reason that participation in such a course is so fervently encouraged by the School, and that retaining the fourth subject up to the second term is compulsory.

It allows you to have a fuller understanding of your courses, having learnt more about them, before you make

the decision about which subjects to carry on to examination.

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