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Sixth-form programmes – the choice


Students entering the sixth form have a range of options to consider. Some schools may be able to offer a choice between two programmes, usually between A level and IB Diploma or A level and Pre-U. However, most schools have to commit themselves to one of those summarised below. 


(AS and A2)


International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma


Cambridge Pre-U

AQA Baccalaureate

Who is it for?

16 to 19 year olds

16 to 19 year olds

16 to 19 year olds

16 to 19 year olds

What can you study?

From September 2015 most students will study three or four A levels.

Six subjects (three at Higher Level and three at Standard Level). All students must study literature, a foreign language, a humanities subject, a natural science and mathematics.

Free choice of three separate and distinct principal academic subjects from a list of 25.

Three A-level subjects in any academic discipline

How does it work?

A new two-year linear A level will be introduced for some subjects for first teaching in September 2015. Students can take a freestanding AS level but it will no longer form part of the A level. The A level will be assessed after two years of study.

The move to linearity is being phased in from 2015 to 2017 when all subjects will become linear.

Over two years, in addition to their six subjects, students complete a 4,000-word Extended Essay and a Theory of Knowledge course, and participate in the Creativity, activity, service (CAS) programme. All exams are taken at the end of the second year of study; there are no modules. Conceived as a holistic integral programme bound by a clear philosophy.

Besides their three subjects studied over two years, students also complete an Independent Research Report and a Global Perspectives Portfolio. Exams are taken at the end of the second year of study; there are no modules.

In addition to their three A levels, students complete an Extended Project Qualification that aims to make them responsible for their own learning; achieve breadth through an AS level in Critical Thinking, Citizenship, General Studies, Science in society or World development; and undertake enrichment activities outside the curriculum such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award

What is it worth?

The A* grade is worth 140 UCAS points; 

A = 120; B = 100; C = 80

AS level: 

A = 60; B = 50; C = 40


The top score of 45 IB points is worth 720 UCAS points. A top grade (7) in a Higher Level subject is worth 130; a Standard Level grade 7 is worth 70. The minimum score required for the Diploma is 24 points

The top grade, Distinction 1, marks achievement above 

A level A* grade; Distinction 2 (145 points) is aligned to A* at A level, and Distinction 3 (130) to A grade

Maximum 550 points for three A* A levels, grade A* Extended Project (70 points) and the AS level at grade A (60)

Where can you study it?

Schools and FE colleges

138 schools and colleges in the UK offer the IB Diploma.

Most interest has come from a small number of highly selective independent schools.

UK schools which believe that A levels are not, in themselves, sufficient preparation for university.


Still the best-known sixth form qualification in the UK, and taken by the largest number of students as their means of entry into higher education. Some schools will offer the Extended Project Qualification in addition to A levels.

Internationally recognised and valued. Heavier class-based workload than A levels and more independent learning. The percentage of candidates achieving the different grades has remained constant over the years.

Designed specifically to provide universities with a means of differentiation from A level A grade students by offering a more rigorous and stretching academic programme assessed on a series of higher grades.

AQA Baccalaureate is derived in large part from the spirit of the IB Diploma Programme: depth, some breadth, thinking and research skills, and extra-curricular experience.


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