Recommendations to improve the proposal for a new A Level

November 10, 2014 · Posted in Blog 

My proposal is based on my analysis that the ethics component is really weak (see my earlier blog) indeed in the second section. It is weaker than philosophy of religion at AS and much weaker at the full A Level. The “Philosophical, Ethical and Social Scientific Studies of Religion” section at the moment is much less well developed than equivalent bullets in the other two areas. The whole section feels lighter than the others in demand and coherence.

Changes in the AS provision

Add a new first bullet to paragraph 11

“An introduction to philosophical and ethical language and thought through key concepts and foundation thinkers, illustrated in issues or debates in philosophy of religion and ethics.”

This would provide some ground rules for then exploring the theories and issues listed in the ethics line and the philosophy of religion line. This would allow for the teaching of a bit of Plato and Aristotle, say, a bit of absolutism and relativism, a bit of teleological and deontological ethics, so students had the language set to then explore issues and theories in the next two paragraphs. It would make clear what the ‘rules’ are. We would have more coherence. Without this addition students will have to jump into some theories and issues with no disciplinary framework. In my judgement this would weaken the intellectual credibility of the subject.

I would amend another bullet point in paragraph 11

“two ‘contrasting’ normative ethical theories such as such as utilitarianism, Kantian ethics or virtue ethics and their application to issues of importance to religious belief such as matters of life and death, poverty and world development, or scientific and technological development.”

This makes sure the ethics studied as AS are normative whilst the ethics studies at A Level are meta-ethical. It also allows for crucial ethical contemporary debates in science to get a hearing such as the ethics of surveillance and online privacy.

I would amend the final bullet too

“two contrasting approaches to explaining issues addressed in ethics, religion and religious experience chosen from the fields of psychology, sociology and anthropology”

This is much stronger and would make space for psychological accounts of conscience for instance as well as religious experience.

Changes to the A Level section

Add a new bullet to paragraph 12.

“how ethical language in the modern era has changed; the challenges posed by meta-ethical theories; and a consideration of two different developments in ethical issues or thought that have had particular impact on religious moral thought.”

This would strengthen the place of ethics at A level to an equal position with philosophy of religion. It would engage with the ethical language development. It would strengthen the focus on religious ethical thought.


2 Responses to “Recommendations to improve the proposal for a new A Level”

  1. delahay on November 11th, 2014 1:17 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with you Bob. As an ethicist, I despair at the light ethics content of the proposed A level. “What is the Good Life?” the most important question since antiquity has been reduced to studying two ethical theories. How do you choose between utilitarianism, Kantian deontology and virtue ethics? Utterly bizarre,

  2. Karen barker on November 23rd, 2014 10:22 pm

    I agree with you Bob. As an ethicist from the moment I began my PGCE all those years ago, I too despair at the light ethics content of the proposed A level. For students to only study two ethical theories makes no sense to me. How do you choose between utilitarianism, Kantian deontology and virtue ethics? And then of course there would be no room to look at environmental ethics, business ethics, sexual ethics, medical ethics etc. my students really engage with all of the applied ethics and the ethical theories. It is rigorous and enjoyed by students as it is for AS/A2 now, I can only see the current proposal as a weakening of our subject, it needs to be balanced with the philosophy and ethics choice to be a ‘real’ choice not an unbalanced choice that is not reflective of the important questions of today’s world and the philosophical and ethical debate that would be found at university. I feel we need to be careful not to lose our focus of a deepening of student development, thought and questioning rather than run the risk of repetition of KS3 at A Level.

Leave a Reply