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Archaeology Matters

AQA cuts A-level archaeology from curriculum

On 12 October the CBA received the devastating news that Archaeology was no longer going to be offered as an A-level qualification by the AQA – the only remaining examining board to offer the subject.  Our own research has previously shown that 74% of A-Level Centres saw a clear correlation between students choosing A-Level Archaeology and their proposed Higher Education or career path so this move could have a critical impact on Britain’s heritage.

The GCSE, also offered by AQA, was withdrawn in 2005 when the A-Level became the entry qualification to the subject. This loss is doubly disappointing as it comes at a critical time in our discipline’s development. The public appetite for archaeology is at an all-time high following major finds such as Richard III and Must Farm. Formerly a key factor in lack of take-up of archaeology A-Level was a perceived lack of career opportunities in the field. Recently, however, the massive scale of projects such as HS2, has highlighted the shortage of archaeologists to support such projects and demonstrated the growth potential within the discipline.

Even if looked at outside of the context of an archaeological career, the loss of this subject is devastating. In 2012 there were just under 1,000 awards for A-Level archaeology in the UK and in 2014 the AQA described the subject as “one of the most exciting on the curriculum”. The wide range of transferrable skills it taught, opened pathways to diverse employment opportunities. 

It was a comparatively difficult subject to do well as it covered such a wide gamut of disciplines and as such, having an archaeology A-Level offered a benchmark of quality to a candidate. This has also worked against the subject as the experience of students and tutors suggested that reform was required to encourage more A-Level centres to take-up the course. This reform was in progress following a Government announcement earlier in 2016 and it is particularly shocking that this decision has been announced now by AQA without consultation with the archaeology sector – which was planning a significant package of support for the reformed qualification.

The real reasons for the AQA decision are unclear, but are most likely to be linked to economic factors. You can see the AQAs official notification letter here:

With the archaeological community already facing major trials to widen participation in the subject, this loss of a major gateway into the discipline is a heavy blow.

The CBA are already lobbying to reverse this decision but if you would like to make your own voice heard there are a few ways you can make a difference.  An online petition is already being circulated to allow people to register their displeasure. In addition, as with so many of the recent cuts, we need to raise awareness of these devastating changes and their impact on our discipline. With major finds in the media generating so much interest and a perception of a golden age in archaeology, we need to ensure that the public is aware that such ground breaking work will cease unless we demonstrate the public’s love of its heritage to key decision makers. Please use whatever channels and contacts you have to highlight this sea-change in our education system.

CBA Director, Dr Mike Heyworth MBE, said, “This is disastrous news for archaeology. Another vital route into the study of the subject is being removed, just at a time when we were looking to expand our support for the revised A-Level and its link with apprenticeships to provide an alternative route into an archaeological career. We need more archaeologists! It is highly regrettable that this decision has been taken behind closed doors with no consultation with the archaeology sector – even the team working on the reform of the A-Level were unaware of the decision until it was announced. We need dialogue with the AQA to look at options for its retention, and we encourage everyone with an interest in archaeology to make their views known to the AQA and to the Government Secretary of State for Education, The Rt Hon Justine Greening MP.”

Pathways into archaeology (2.2M, .PDF)
If you would like to see our own research on pathways into archaeology, including a qualitative look at the A-level course, you can see our full research report here.

Improving education pathways into archaeology (4.6M, .PDF)
We included an article in British Archaeology about the pressures on Further Education in British Archaeology at the time of Ofqual's consultation on the matter in 2014.

Developing the new A-level (5.7M, .PDF)
An article in British Archaeology magazine outlining how the new A-level was developing and how we would support the qualification.

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