What is the A level about?
Politics is a subject with plotlines that are so preposterous, they would be rejected by Netflix as unbelievable. Brexit, President Trump, the Prime Minister hospitalised by a virus that is taking over the planet while his chief adviser drives to beauty spots to test his eyes are working. The truth is that I have no idea precisely what you will be studying when you embark on a politics course, and that is what makes the subject so appealing.
However there are ways of making sense of the chaos. While the examples change from year to year, the nuts and bolts of politics is remarkably resilient. In Britain we have an uncodified constitution, meaning it is a collection of principles, laws and conventions, that are sufficiently flexible to allow major change to occur, while being in keeping with the traditions of the political system. The United States is protected by its own constitution, ostensibly more structured and prescriptive than the British one, but also full of ambiguity and interpretation. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
Therefore Politics at A level is designed to enable you to understand the broadly unchanging structures that underpin the political systems in Britain and the United States and then to investigate the conflict and consensus that builds on top and fluctuates from year to year, month to month, hour to hour.
What does the A level consist of?
The course is split into three components
Component 1: UK Politics
1. Political Participation:
- Democracy and participation
- Political parties
- Electoral systems
- Voting behaviour and the media.
2. Core Political Ideas:
Component 2: UK Government
1. UK Government:
- The constitution
- The Prime Minister and executive
- Relationships between the branches
2. Non-core Political Ideas:
Component 3: Comparative Politics (USA)
- The Constitution and federalism
- The presidency
- The Supreme Court and civil rights
- Democracy and participation
- Comparative theories
Do I need to have studied the subject at GCSE?
A grade 6 in an essay-based subject, such as History, Geography, Economics, Theology or English Literature is desirable.
Whom does the subject suit?
Blustering demagogues, machiavellian schemers, wannabe despots. If you want to change the world (or want to prevent the world from being changed) but don’t know where to start, this is the subject for you. Politics combines well with History, Geography or Economics as option choices.
What skills should I have?
The course is largely assessed through essays and is a 100% examination based qualification. You need to be able to debate using the written and spoken word; if you have this, even with no other discernible skills, talents or ideas, you too could one day be prime minister.
What might the subject lead to?
Number 10 Downing Street or prison. Politics related subjects, including International Relations have proved to be popular university destinations for our pupils.
What trips are involved?
We have visited the Houses of Parliament and become invoiced in more local political competitions in West Oxfordshire.
What else should I consider before choosing?
It is important to enter the subject with an open mind. Political polarisation, rather than any extremist ideology, is the greatest threat to functioning democracy in Britain and America. Many people are happy to swallow the set-menu on offer from each party, when in reality what they need is more à la carte. The one guiding mantra to adhere to is the same one that my Politics teacher taught me 20 years ago, that no one party or ideology has a monopoly on political wisdom. Listen to each other and don’t be too proud to change your mind.
What books should I read?
Read the memoirs of the greatest Conservative prime minister this century: David Cameron.
MP and noted parliamentary historian, Chris Bryant, has written an excellent two-volume history of parliament.
Read political magazines, from left-wing to right-wing: The Tribune, The New Statesman, The Economist, The Spectator.
Who will teach me?
Mr Fox and Mr Ferrero