Politics A level – introductory video
In this short video interview, Andrew Colclough (Head of Politics) gives an introduction to Politics at A level:
What is Politics A level about?
The starting point of the study of AS politics is you. The common assumption is that the United Kingdom is a democracy. The first unit examines the extent to which this is true: Politicians have a huge power over us but how much power do we have over politicians? People mainly have power through elections in which they vote for their favoured party and/or set of policies. Alternatively people can join pressure groups, in an attempt to influence government policy perhaps by demonstrating (such as the March for The Alternative, opposing Government expenditure cuts) or even taking direct action (such as the activities of the Animal Liberation Front who have physically attacked people who work in the animal testing industry). You will start to understand how such processes work and then start to judge for yourself whether or not the UK is sufficiently democratic.
One of the defining characteristics of the subject is that it is dynamic and contemporary. You will learn to understand the political system by studying developments as they happen. This sheds further light on the theory studied in class and gives a great sense of the importance of Politics. It is this which helps to make the subject so interesting to the vast majority of students who study it.
Another major aspect is the study of powerful people and organisations. Politicians have a major impact on your life. There are obvious examples of this such as :
- the managing of the credit crunch
- the extension of university top up fees
- the ban on smoking in public places
- the issues of war and terrorism
The government heavily regulates the kind of food we eat, influences the options we have or don't have for travel, and affects what we watch or don't watch on television or the internet. What we are interested in is how these policies are made. What is the role of the Prime Minister? Of Cabinet? What power struggles occur with between politicians? How much power do MPs have to influence policy? What is a coalition government and how is it different from the type of government normally experienced in the UK?
What does the AS consist of?
This covers British Politics. The examination consists of questions which require short structured type responses, one essay and one data response.
- Unit 1 People and Politics: This examines the way in which people influence politicians through elections, pressure groups and parties. Once students have a knowledge of how the system works they will then go on to assess the desirability of the system.
- Unit 2 Governing the UK: This covers the institutions and their influence on us. These institutions include Parliament, Prime Minister and the Courts. As with Unit 1, once a sound knowledge is attained, students go on to question the desirability of changing UK institutions.
What does the A2 consist of?
This deals with Politics in the United States. The examination consists of questions which require short answers and longer essays.
- Unit 4 Representation in the USA: This looks at Elections, Parties, Pressure Groups and The Civil Rights Movement
- Unit 5 Governing the USA: This covers The Supreme Court, Congress, The President and the Constitution
What is the exam strategy?
Students will typically complete the AS in June of the first year and the A2 in June of the second year. AS modules can be retaken according to individual student needs. All AS students will complete unit 1 in January.
- What are the main methods of pressure groups?
- Should the UK electoral system be reformed?
- How powerful is The Prime Minister?
How is Politics taught at d'Overbroeck's?
The course is not simply based on argument and opinion. It requires students to learn a body of knowledge. At d'Overbroeck's, students will be taught in a very structured manner. Each topic has a list of subsections and within that students will be required to learn key facts. The topic of pressure groups, for example has several subsections such as the methods used by pressure groups to influence policy. Students will learn that there are five main methods and then go on to understand the significance of these methods and apply them to contemporary examples. In short, armed with a Politics department outline, students will always know where they are in the course, what they should know and where they are going.
As a contemporary subject, the study of Politics requires students to develop an awareness of Politics via the media. There is also, as with all social science subjects, a requirement to develop writing skills. As the course progresses there is scope for discussion and debate and students will learn how to develop arguments and consider different viewpoints.
A great emphasis is placed on the development of writing skills. Time will be devoted to this in lessons, starting from the very basics. This will show students how they can write more effectively and give them time to practise this in short controlled exercises, giving individual feedback. This then builds up to the production of complete AS answers.
What could I read to find out more about the subject?
Probably the best thing to do is to read the newspaper or watch the news on tv/internet. Pick up on any issues that you find interesting. It may seem confusing at first but will become more clear with time.
Politics.co.uk is a great website. The website contains information on the latest events but you could also look at the 'reference' section for an insight into some of the topics covered by the AS course.
Politics textbooks are soon outdated but you could look at The Essentials of UK Politics by Andrew Heywood.
Who will teach me?
Andrew Colclough is Head of Politics. He obtained an MA in Political Theory at York University and is a Senior Examiner with Edexcel. He has lectured for The Open University in both Social Sciences and The European Union.
Andrew's interests: 'I am especially interested in the way in which people have (or do not have) power in the political process. Voter turnout is dropping in both the United States and The United Kingdom, suggesting that people are less interested in politics. On the other hand, there has been an increase in other forms of political activity, such as joining pressure groups and/or taking personal direct action. People appear to trust politicians less but still want to engage in political processes.
'Many people have very negative views regarding politics and politicians in particular. I think it is important to realise the huge impact politicians have on our lives and the possibilities we have to influence them. I also believe that most politicians enter politics to fight for what they believe is right and that the media and individuals can be excessively negative. It is good to be sceptical but it is unhealthy (politically speaking) when we become cynical.'
Andrew Latcham has taught in both the US and UK, completing his PhD at Oxford. As an American, he brings great insight into the study of US as well as UK Politics.
What might the subject lead onto?
The subject will develop critical skills and writing abilities and as such is very well respected by Universities as a rigorous subject. It is useful if you wish to study History or any social science, such as Economics, Business etc at University. Several of our students have gone on to study similar courses at Oxford, Cambridge and The LSE. It is particularly useful for those interested in careers in Law, Journalism and, of course, Politics. Students have gone on to these, and a huge variety of other careers. One student even became a Pop Idol.