The Death of A-level Psychology

Psychology is the fourth most popular A-level in England; I’ve said that before in so many different places that you should all be aware of it by now. It’s also the most popular science subject and, unlike the other sciences, is a magnet for girls. In fact, more than 70% of the fifty-odd thousand A-level psychology candidates are female and it’s turned more girls onto science than any other subject.

It must be safe then, right? After all, it’s science and it’s popular.

Ah, but there’s a catch – and a massive one at that. The Russell Group of top UK universities don’t seem to think that much of A-level psychology. In fact, they’ve excluded it from their list of ‘facilitating subject’ (those subjects that are deemed important in order to study at the best universities). This means that the more academically able students are less like to choose it – not because psychology isn’t academic or rigorous (a number of studies have found it to be both) but because it’s not the ‘right type of science’.

I suspect that the ‘right type of science’ is one that doesn’t find itself constantly at the mercy of media confusion, misunderstanding and downright ignorance.

Psychology isn’t the glamorous blonde on the This Morning sofa discussing Big Brother or The Love Machine. It’s science. It’s what goes on in top universities and the National Health Service; it’s brain scanners and empirical investigations and all those things we associate with science. Psychologists investigate memory and learning, perceptual development, Alzheimer’s disease; they assess children in schools for learning difficulties, advise big business and care for the mentally ill.

Did I tell you that psychology is a science?

Oh yes it is. Unfortunately most schools don’t admit this, which is odd, seeing as so many of their students are studying it. You might find it in ‘Humanities’ or (if your lucky) the school will have a ‘Social Studies’ department (because psychology is just like sociology, right?).

The most recent announcement from a man whose only motivation is to be PM one day (that’s Michael Gove if the hint wasn’t obvious enough) is that AS level will be decoupled from the full A-level. Now, I have no idea how this will work but the problem with psychology is that most pupils won’t have studied psychology before. This makes them more likely to study AS psychology rather than the full A-level (just in case they don’t like it). Oh, and their parents will be busy encouraging them to take ‘proper’ (i.e. Russell Group facilitating) subjects. What teenager in their right mind would do a one-year AS in psychology and then spend another two years getting the full A-level (you could get a degree in that time)?

Now can you see the problem?

There is a great possibility that A-level psychology could vanish within the next five years (that’s my prediction). AS might hang around for a little bit longer but that too will die out like every other endangered specie. This would be a shame (not just because I’d lose my job). It would be a shame because it has so much to offer young people and has been so successful in getting them interested in science.

Am I being sensationalist?

Probably – but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

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