What is an A-Level?
In Year 12 students will choose and study 4 A-level courses. Some students, who have been particularly successful at GCSE, may choose to study 5 subjects in Year 12. Each course is taught for nine hours per fortnight.
In Year 13 students will normally continue to study A-level courses in three of their Year 12 subjects. In some cases students may complete four A-level courses. Students, therefore, leave with either three or four full A-levels, as well as EPQ (the Extended Project Qualification).
Vocational subjects include health and social care (can be taken either as a single or double award), and Level 3 - Food Science and Nutrition.
Each A-level course comprises multiple units of work. These are usually assessed through examinations, coursework or a combination of the two. Rigorous internal trial examination assessments will take place in February of Year 12, and end of year Academic Performance Exams will be held in June-July of Year 12. In Year 13, trial examinations will be held in January, and final external examination assessments will take place in May-June of Year 13.
A-level courses are challenging and more demanding than GCSEs. All students will receive regular assessment and feedback throughout their courses to support their progression from GCSE to A-level. In all A-level courses grades A* to E will represent a pass. In all vocational courses grades of Distinction * to Pass will represent a pass.
Courses offered at Balcarras
Many A-levels are available. Information on each, including the titles of the A-level units, can be found in our prospectus or by viewing the videos below.
Video information on courses available
Choosing your Courses
When choosing your courses, you should be guided by three key factors: academic ability and aptitude; enjoyment and interest; relevance to your future career aspirations. Firstly, you should consider your academic strengths: which are your best subjects?
Secondly, you should select subjects you most enjoy studying. Thirdly, if you have a firm idea about your future career or a subject you wish to study at university, then you are strongly advised to do some careful research into which subjects are required to ensure all options remain open to you.
With four A-level courses available to you in Year 12, there is an opportunity to maintain a fairly broad curriculum. For example, you may wish to take a language alongside three science subjects, or a science subject alongside three arts and humanities subjects. Universities and employers will welcome such breadth.
"I chose to do five subjects because I wanted to stretch myself and the teachers helped me to make the transition from GCSE to AS really smoothly. The step up to A-level work was difficult, but there was so much support"
Stuart Evans - ex-student
Progression to A level
Progression from Year 12 to Year 13 is not automatic. It is dependent on your progress throughout Year 12, and your examination results. If students do not gain at least a pass grade in their trial examinations in Year 12 then they may be advised not to continue that particular course to A-level and it may be that their course of study is changed.
The vast majority of students, however, following four A-level courses in Year 12 will usually progress into Year 13 to take three A-levels. Any student wishing to continue to study all four A-levels in Year 13 may do so. The decision about which course to drop, if any, will be made at the end of Year 12. This decision will be made on the basis of discussion between the students and teachers. Parents are welcome to be involved in the discussion if they so wish.
Alongside your academic subjects, there will be a number of other courses on your timetable:
For two hours a fortnight, all students will follow an EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) course leading to an AS-level - equivalent to half an A-level. Details are in the prospectus.
This course offers a number of elements:
- Preparation for higher education: choosing the right course, UCAS applications, money management, getting accommodation.
- Alternatives to higher education
- Starting a career, taking a year out
- Study skills and tips for achieving success at A-level, including note-taking, essay writing and time management.
The whole of Year 12 comes together once a fortnight to listen to a variety of interesting and informative guest speakers.
Extra Curricular Activities
Each student selects from a wide range of activities, which varies from term to term. A number of competitive options are available, including netball, hockey, football and rugby, and training or inter-school fixtures take place during this time. More recreational options have included body conditioning, the gym, power walking, golf, trampolining and badminton.
Students participate in a wide range of extra-curricular activities, including: The Duke of Edinburgh Award, Young Enterprise, the paired reading scheme, debating competitions and inter-school sports matches. Here are some examples:
The Duke of Edinburgh Award
Sixth form students are encouraged to take part in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. Many will already be involved, and will wish to progress to the Gold or Silver Award, others will wish to take part for the first time. All will be welcome! Please visit here for more information.
The success of the Young Enterprise scheme at Balcarras has been exceptional. Students have formed their own companies, producing and selling a range of goods. Each business is judged on their trading activities, the quality of their production and their financial record keeping and performance. Attendance at a trade exhibition, producing a company report and giving a presentation to a panel of judges complete the competition. In 2012 Balcarras, having won the regional and national competitions went on to win the prestigious Fedex award in the European finals, in recognition of their outstanding business acumen. Our two most recent teams, Sustain in 2019 and Memento in 2020 also reached the national finals and both succeeded in securing awards.
The sixth form run a peer mentoring programme where Year 13's mentor Year 12 students. This advice can be anything from subject support through to pastoral issues. It has been a great success and provides guidance in the first year of sixth form and valuable experience for the Year 13's when completing applications and CV's. Students in Year 12 also have the opportunity to participate in paired reading and maths mentoring with students in Years 7 and 8, where they help the younger students develop their literacy and numeracy skills. This programme is run by our SEN department.
House Music, House Dance and House Languages
These are annual competitions for the whole school that are organised and coordinated by sixth form pupils. This is a great opportunity to get involved in an extra curricular activity to develop leadership and organisation skills, and also to have a lot of fun!
Dress Up day
Dress Up Day is a fun, annual event in which all the students in the sixth form are invited to create outfits and wear their costumes for one celebratory day in the spring term.
"The sixth form is outstanding. The quality of teaching, leadership and what the school provides is exceptional. Students gain a very high standard in examinations."
"Pupils are encouraged to adopt a healthy lifestyle"