Policy statement on UK qualification reform

The University of Sheffield is keeping a close eye on current qualification reform. We are keen to ensure that every cohort of applicants is treated fairly so that potential students who have the ability to thrive at Sheffield are given the opportunity to do so.

This briefing outlines some key reforms and the stance which the University of Sheffield is taking towards them. It is aimed at helping schools and students to make decisions about qualifications, and reassuring them of Sheffield's commitment to fair admissions at a time of considerable change and uncertainty.

AS and A Level reform in England

Between September 2015 and 2017, AS and A Levels in England were "decoupled" and reformed, and became separate, linear qualifications, examined at the end of the course. Students entering university from 2017 onwards will have a mixture of old and reformed AS and A Levels, and 2019 entry students who have followed the standard pattern of education will present only reformed AS and A Levels.

Reformed AS Levels are designed to be taught alongside the first year of reformed A Levels so that schools can teach groups of students together regardless of whether the students intend to stop at AS Level or pursue the full A Level. However, even if a student sits an AS Level and then decides to pursue the full A Level, material from the whole two years will be examined as part of the A Level. AS marks cannot be carried forward and AS grades will not contribute to A Level grades.

The assessment of practical skills in reformed Physics, Chemistry and Biology A Levels will be separate from the written exams which lead to the final grade. The A Level will be graded A* to E, and the practical element will get a separate pass or fail grade.

AS Levels: The University of Sheffield approach

We understand that some schools and colleges will still wish to enter all students for AS Levels whereas others will carry out internal assessment at the end of Year 12 to inform students' progression to Year 13, grade predictions and university decisions. The decision whether a student should sit an AS Level even if they intend to take the full A Level must rest with the school or college and the student, and the University of Sheffield will not discriminate for or against students according to which choice they make.

Our admissions decisions are based on a holistic assessment of the information in the UCAS application, with subject choice and predicted grades being among the most important measures in most cases, and we have every confidence that schools and colleges will continue to provide us with helpful indicators of students' potential regardless of whether externally-assessed exams have been taken or not. Many non-A Level qualifications that applicants present are already linear so we are very used to making admissions decisions in the absence of validated grades half way through school-leaving exams.

Whilst we continue to make offers on the basis of three A Levels, we do welcome the evidence of breadth of study which is provided by a fourth subject at AS Level or an Extended Project Qualification and we are often able to make alternative offers to include these. For students applying for Maths or Maths-based subjects, the addition to the standard A Level profile of Further Maths at AS or A Level is always welcome. At present (2018 entry) there are no courses at Sheffield for which AS Level attainment is a key part of the admissions decision.

Practical Science: The University of Sheffield approach

Practical skills are an important part of science education and for some courses we require students to pass the practical element of any science A Level taken. Where this is the case it will be specified in our course entry requirements and in the offers we issue.

GCSE reform in England

In addition to changes to AS and A Levels, GCSEs in England have also been reformed. The reforms, which were phased in between 2015 and 2017, include the introduction of revised subjects and a numeric grading system, which replaced A*–G grades. The numeric scale comprises grades of 9 to 1, where 9 is the highest and 1 is the lowest grade. Guidance from Ofqual indicates that a grade 4 is broadly comparable to the old GCSE grade C, and therefore more differentiation is offered at the higher levels of ability by the new numeric structure.

We require students to achieve grade 4 or above in the English Language GCSE completed in England. We continue to require a grade C from GCSE English Language qualifications completed outside England.

Some of our degree courses require a higher grade in GCSE English Language, or achievement in maths or other subjects. In these cases, the GCSE requirement will be specified in our course entry requirements.

The English Baccalaureate

The English Baccalaureate is not required for entry to our undergraduate degrees. We will welcome applicants offering the English Baccalaureate, but we will treat them equally to those achieving in a range of GCSE subjects.

Policy statement on the English Baccalaureate

Applied General Qualifications

Applied General qualifications are Level 3 qualifications that allow 16- to 19-year-olds to develop transferable knowledge and skills. They are for students who want to continue their education through applied learning. Applied General qualifications allow entry to a range of higher education courses, either by fully meeting the entry requirements in their own right or through acceptance alongside other qualifications at Level 3, such as A Levels.

The University of Sheffield will consider relevant Applied General qualifications (such as BTECs and Cambridge Technicals) for entry to a number of our undergraduate courses. Some courses specify required levels of achievement in particular units, or ask for additional qualifications to satisfy subject requirements. Students taking combinations of Applied General qualifications, or combining them with other Level 3 qualifications such as A Levels, should avoid combinations of similar subjects.

The Technical Baccalaureate

The Technical Baccalaureate is not required for entry to our undergraduate degrees. We welcome applicants offering the TechBacc, and we will treat them equally to those offering suitable stand-alone Tech Level/Applied General courses. We normally expect applicants to offer three full A Levels or an accepted equivalent qualification/combination of qualifications (this includes some of the Tech Level courses taken as part of the Technical Baccalaureate).

We may be able to consider the composite parts of a particular Technical Baccalaureate if these are deemed to cover the depth and breadth of study required for an undergraduate degree at the University of Sheffield and meet our published entry requirements.

Entry requirements do vary from course to course and we would advise applicants to check the course pages on our website, particularly for any subject-specific requirements (such as A Level Maths), before submitting an application.

Core Maths

In September 2014 a new suite of "Core Maths" qualifications (equivalent to an AS Level in size) were introduced to encourage the continuation of mathematical study post-16:

  • AQA Level 3 Certificate Mathematical Studies
  • City & Guilds Level 3 Certificate in Using and Applying Mathematics
  • OCR Level 3 Certificate in Quantitative Problem Solving
  • OCR Level 3 Certificate in Quantitative Reasoning
  • Pearson Edexcel Level 3 Certificate in Mathematics in Context
  • WJEC Eduqas Level 3 Certificate in Mathematics for Work and Life

Core Maths qualifications specifically focus on the use of mathematics skills in contextualised, complex scenarios. The University of Sheffield welcomes the ethos behind the development of Core Maths and recognises that students who are not taking AS or A Level Maths may find these qualifications beneficial in preparing for undergraduate study, even if the course does not require AS or A Level Maths as part of the entry requirements.

Whilst we will not include Core Maths qualifications in our entry requirements or offers, we do welcome the evidence of breadth of study and skills development that studying Maths post-16 level can provide. We will not accept Core Maths in lieu of AS or A Level Maths where this is a specified requirement for entry.