The Advantages of A levels
As Head of the Sixth Form I am often asked about my opinion regarding the choice between A level and the IB and why Harrow has opted for A levels, when so many other schools in Shanghai are offering the IB.
The principal advantage of A levels is the freedom of choice that they offer. Most pupils study three A level subjects and there are no specific requirements for which subjects a pupil should study. A levels allow pupils considerable freedom to specialise in the subjects that really interest them and which are more closely related to the course that they might aspire to study at university. Certain subject combinations, such as Maths, Further Maths, combined with a science subject, are also more easily achieved through an A level programme. A levels also allow for the study of all three sciences. For pupils who aren’t quite so sure about their future plans, A levels still give them the option of maintaining a breadth of subjects, such as studying a humanities subject, combined with maths, science or a language.
Focusing on three subjects at A level, as opposed to the six studied at IB, gives teachers considerably more time to explore a subject in real depth. At Harrow, A level pupils also benefit from several study periods each week, where they can complete reading and research tasks. This helps to prepare them for future study at university, where learning is more self-directed.
A levels are recognised by universities all over the world, including those in Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and in America. However, a frequent misconception is that A levels are somehow perceived as a ‘weaker’ qualification by some universities, particularly in America. This is not true. The US-UK Fulbright Commission publishes a table on their website to help potential applicants average their A level qualifications into a grade point average (GPA). From that table, it can be clearly seen that an A* grade at A level is the equivalent of a 4.0 GPA scale, which is the highest point on the scale. Pupils from other Harrow International Schools, who also study A levels, regularly gain places at top universities around the word.
To conclude, Harrow has chosen A levels because we believe that the programme of study should be tailored individually to each pupil, rather than moulding the pupil to fit the qualification.
Head of Sixth Form, Harrow International School Shanghai