What is Economics A level about?
AS and A level Economics aim to give an insight into key issues in the news affecting everyday life. Our goal is to allow you to understand the forces driving things like the price of oil, exchange rates and the level of unemployment in an economy. Big areas of the course include:
- Government debt – how does it build up, does it matter and what should be done?
- Unemployment: why has it risen so sharply in recent years and what can be done?
- Exchange rates: why are they so variable, and why do they matter?
- Prices: why do they always seem to rise?
- Business: why and how do firms compete?
The subject is split into two main sections, microeconomics and macroeconomics. Whereas macro looks at the big issues affecting the economy as a whole (unemployment, inflation, growth and so on), micro looks at a smaller scale; the pricing of individual products like oil or gold; the salaries paid to different people, and the reasons for any differences.
The feel of the subject is one which looks at the reasons changes occur, and builds models to help you to analyse changes. Hence a student having studied Economics would understand clearly why prices of oil, copper, gold, silver and wood dropped in 2009 but have recovered strongly since. They would understand why unemployment in advanced economies has risen, but why the UK unemployment has risen by less than some. They would understand how the UK government got into so much debt and the extent to which this matters.
Taken together, micro and macroeconomics give a complete understanding of the economy as a whole that will be valuable in career terms as well as bringing an increased understanding of the last five minutes of the news!
What does the course consist of?
The AS (units 1 and 2) aims to give a broad understanding of the whole of Economicsand it forms a complete course in its own right. By the end of the first year you will have a very good understanding of:
- The forces influencing the success of the UK and other global economies
- The sets of policies available to the UK government to make the economy stronger, and the limits to those policies apparent in the present economic circumstances.
- Why prices for different goods and services are at different levels and the forces that might make them change.
- Why governments need to intervene in the supply of some goods and services with taxes, laws or in some cases subsidies and state provision.
The A2 units (3 and 4) look at issues in more detail, as well as expanding the scope of analysis from rich successful economies to poorer struggling ones. We see how the same sets of principles which explain why economies such as the UK and the US are successful also allow us to understand the obstacles keeping countries such as Tanzania or Ethiopia in poverty. The key areas of study are:
- How firms compete with one another, and the consequences of monopoly power
- Further, more detailed analysis of the big issues facing countries such as unemployment, inflation, growth and the Balance of Payments
- In-depth analysis of the issues affecting less developed economies, why some poorer countries have succeed in growing quickly, whereas others are still desperately poor
Using appropriate economic analysis, evaluate the probable effects of the measures announced by the Government on the UK Economy.
Whom does the subject suit?
Anyone with an interest in knowing more about the way the world works. Students take Economics in combination with a very wide array of other subjects – everything ranging from Art and English Literature at one end to Further Maths and Physics at the other.
A common misconception is that a strong mathematical background is important for the A level – this is not true; an ability to understand graphs and correlation is the only mathematical requirement. Beyond this, all that is needed is an ability to argue a case, to compare theory with reality and observe the differences, but these are skills needed for almost any AS/A2 level. Many students have taken up Economics as an additional AS subject only to find that they enjoy it so much they decide to study it at university.
How is Economics taught at d'Overbroeck's?
Students enjoy Economics at d'Overbroeck's because it is contemporary and rooted in the real world, but at the same time it is always closely related to a clearly explained set of economic theory. Students always feel that their views are valued, and lessons are based around student input – student examples, ideas and arguments all form an integral part of developing a collective understanding of the work covered.
Students also comment on the excellent level of support available to all students whenever they have issues. From an online support area designed and written by the Head of Department, to weekly support sessions or individual one-to-one attention, students feel that they matter, that their progress is being monitored and that there is always someone or somewhere to turn if they face difficulties.
The most common problems students elsewhere have with Economics is that they get lost with the theory and are then unable to apply it successfully to the real world. Our approach is one which will ensure that you don't get lost, and will therefore be able to get the most out of your study of a vibrant and dynamic subject.
Beyond the narrow confines of the A level, students are encouraged to broaden their horizons. We have encouraged students to enter a wide range of competitions such as the Royal Economics Society Young Economist essay competition, Target 2.0, run by the Bank of England, where students are challenged to operate monetary policy and other smaller competitions. Each year we also run an internal end-of-year film competition for the lower sixth students as part of an intro to development economics. One of this year’s winning entries can be seen here.
Beyond this we push students to read as widely as possible from more general books such as Freakonomics, The Undercover Economist, 23 things they don’t tell you about capitalism, Predictably Irrational and more. We have also encouraged students to look at free online courses from the world’s leading universities. This year a number of students completed Dan Ariely’s undergraduate level course (from Duke University) on Irrationality. The introductory video for that course (to give you a flavour of what they learned) can be found here.
Taken together, interested students should get exposure to current affairs a strong theoretical understanding of the subject and interesting extended reading.
Which books can I read to get a sense of the subject?
Any textbook will give a sense of the theory (such as Alain Anderton's Economics), but other more readable introductions include:
- The Undercover Economist, Tim Harford (Abacus)
- Free Lunch, David Smith (Profile Books)
- End this Depression now!, Paul Krugman (WW Norton)
What websites are there to look at?
The UK's outstanding economics website is Tutor2U, with a whole array of economics based resources, and an excellent blog which will give a great feel for the subject.
The BBC's website is also excellent, the most relevant section being business/economy
Who will teach me?
Simon Harrison (BA) has been Head of Department since 1998. He graduated in PPE from University College, Oxford in 1988 and has worked at d'Overbroeck's since. Simon is the Principal Examiner for WJEC AS Economics and is involved in the development of the new specification.
Matthew Graham graduated in Economics from Loughborough in 2009. He brings a strong understanding of contemporary developments in economic theory with a drive and determination to make the subject understood. Lessons are always varied, informative and engaging.
George Vlachonikolis served as an officer in the Army for 6 years before which he completed a first degree in Economics and Politics and then a Master's in International Studies at Sheffield. George was involved both in training as well as serving as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan.
Jonathan Young brings a wealth of real-world experience to the department. Having run a successful events management company for several years, he decided to change direction and move into teaching. He brings an infectious blend of business insight and economic understanding to his lessons.
Richard Knowles (MA, DPhil) is the College's Administrative Principal, and another Oxford PPE graduate. He has taught at undergraduate level within Oxford University, and has worked at d'Overbroeck's for over 20 years. He rose rapidly to become Head of Economics, until his burgeoning responsibilities elsewhere in the College led him to relinquish the role in 1998.
Below is a short video of Simon Harrison, the Head of Economics, giving a talk about the power of compound interest to younger students at our junior school, Leckford Place:
What might the subject lead onto?
It could lead to a career in bodybuilding/US Politcs, football management or acting if Arnold Schwartzenegger, Arsene Wenger amd Cate Blanchlett are anything to go by, but whether or not you go on to read an Economics degree, Economics is well regarded by universities as a rigorous A level, because of the analytical skills that it teaches. The model-based approach of the subject gives a good mental framework for almost any subsequent degree.
Statistically, those students who do take a degree in Economics on average command higher starting salaries out of university, and are more likely to make it into the 'elite' graduate jobs in areas such as management consultancy.
This year, student destinations for Economics based courses at university included: LSE (5), UCLBristol, Bath, SOAS, King’s City, Queen Mary, Cardiff, and Birmingham.