Combined Studies at Abbey College: Alternative to A-levels

Liz Elam, Principal at Abbey College Manchester, discusses the new Combined Studies Programme developed by the college

As educators, widening participation and inclusion is paramount to getting the best out of each and every student, enabling them to thrive. Our commitment to this has encouraged us at Abbey College Manchester to develop an innovative new programme, offering a practical and distinctive alternative to A-levels and BTEC. 

The Level 3 Combined Studies Programme is unique to our college and provides a fresh and exciting pathway to a university degree. It has been designed to equip students for degree-level work, using the pedagogy of a three-unit programme consisting of one mandatory and two optional subject strands (each containing three units). The subjects can be chosen from: business; creative arts; economics; humanities; mathematics; physics; chemistry and biology. 

Students will encounter a variety of different concepts and contexts at degree level and to prepare them for this, the programme enhances their ability to understand such circumstances. 

Not only does the course cover subject content, but the breadth and structure of the course will also develop key skills. We believe that building on these important dexterities such as language, knowledge, ICT and learning is pivotal for degree success, which is why the course places a heavy focus on this with a compulsory unit worth 25%, preparing students for their further studies. 

As the programme is modular, examinations are taken in December, March and June, with one re-sit opportunity in the June series. This gives the students a good opportunity to build up their score and gain a good idea of the level that they are achieving as the course progresses. Enabling students to see their progression can, in turn, help with encouraging them to strive further, and helping them to identify where further improvement is needed. 

The programme can be taken over one or two years. Students on the two-year option would be expected to have five GCSE passes at grade C/D, whereas one-year students would have studied a Year 12 or Year 13 Level 3 course prior to commencing the programme, which was not meeting their needs. 

Some students, for a multiplicity of reasons, may not have yet thrived in the education system, yet they may have the intelligence and potential to do so. The reasons may consist of the individual having learning difficulties, or any wellbeing, trauma or mental-health issues which have resulted in gaps in their education. This programme gives them the opportunity to apply for higher education. 

The programme provides a pathway to a leading university degree. Currently at the college we have three universities where the course is already recognised – Teesside University, Aston University and the University of Chester. In addition to these, we are continually looking to expand our partnerships with other leading establishments.

Academics from the universities visit Abbey College Manchester and run workshops in subject areas available on the course such as business, product design, engineering and science, enabling students to learn from a different prospective.

The partnership with Teesside University is further developed as the university runs a three-day residential course in which students are able to use state-of-the-art equipment, and investigate real-life scenarios and projects. This is a compulsory unit that is assessed and students can gain valuable university credits towards the Combined Studies Programme. 

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