• Radley College, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, OX14 2HR
  • Telephone: 01235 543000, Fax: 01235 543106





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Sixth Form Curriculum

The educational course at Radley is designed to teach boys the value of hard work and an intelligent management of time.

We aim for breadth in a boy’s academic programme, we try to ensure intellectual stimulus both inside and outside the curriculum, and we seek to achieve an easy command of, and familiarity with, Information Technology. We also endeavour to train Sixth Formers in the ability to research and synthesise for themselves, to learn independently. Beyond that we hope to awaken in Radleians an appreciation of literature and the arts so that they can gain real pleasure from pursuing these interests in their adult lives. When a Radleian leaves the Sixth Form, it is expected that he will have those attributes necessary both to command a worthwhile place in Higher Education and – beyond that – to compete effectively in the market place for jobs in the 21st century.

Introduction: changing times

Since September 2016, we have recommended the three A-levels as standard model, since the new A-levels (which are being introduced in three tranches from 2015) generally contain more content. Additionally, as has been made clear in the press, grade boundaries have risen successively over the past few years. In 2000, we introduced a four A-levels as standard policy partly because we felt the then new A-levels lacked the breadth of their predecessors. However, recent government reforms have produced more rigorous qualifications which demand more teaching time and we are also conscious of the rising grade requirements for top quality UCAS offers.

Therefore, unless a boy is doing Further Maths*, he will not be expected to take more than three A-level subjects. Of course if a boy wishes to study four subjects other than a combination that includes Further Maths, we shall not try to hinder him, but as each subject will have ten periods taught per (48 period) cycle, those on a non-Further Maths four A-level timetable would have 40 taught lessons plus at least three periods of extension classes. This would leave only five study periods per cycle.

In addition to taking his A-levels, every boy will be expected to undertake either an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) or the Pre-U Global Perspectives course or the mini-MBA course, run in conjunction with Ashridge Business School. See the Curriculum Extension Programme document here. On top of that, we have innovative Joint Study Days with Oxford High School.

In reforming the Radley Sixth Form Curriculum, what do we want to achieve?

To equip boys to:

  • be more independent in their thinking and practice  
  • take greater ownership over their academic work 
  • be able to make a successful transition to university level study 
  • engage fruitfully in extension work of their own choosing 

To increase flexibility of study in the sixth form curriculum, so:

  • boys can tailor their study to particular interests, which may or may not emerge from existing A level study 
  • investigate subjects or areas not covered specifically in Radley's A level options (e.g. Engineering, Law, Environmental Science, International Relations) through elements of the Curriculum Extension Programme, helping boys to decide whether or not to study them at university

To make an externally recognised extension qualification (EPQ or Global Perspectives Pre-U) a part of a Radleian's UCAS application, thereby:

  • providing quantifiable evidence of a boy's academic aptitude and potential, which can be used in combination with predicted A-level grades
  • demonstrating to universities a boy's ability to pursue independent study 
  • providing an opportunity for certain universities to reduce grade offers based on the attainment of a specified EPQ grade (e.g. Newcastle)  
  • adding greater academic 'punch' to a personal statement 

What is the timeline for choosing A-levels?

  • October: boys are briefed on subjects which are only offered at A-level and they submit their initial preferences by online poll
  • December: parents receive A-level choices email and using the college website discuss choices with boys during the Christmas holidays
  • January: Fifth Form boys meet with the Academic Director about their choices. They submit their preliminary selection online. Ongoing discussion of preliminary choices by boys, Tutors, Heads of Department, the Academic Director, and the Director of University Entrance (with flexibility until September)
  • February: The Parents’ meeting is held to confirm or review boys’ initial choices
  • March: boys and Tutors make revised choices, if necessary. We like these choices to be as firm as possible to assist with the planning of staffing and timetabling, although there is, of course, flexibility for change thereafter

What is the timetable for the Curriculum Extension Programme?

  • Summer term of Vths used to inform boys on the EPQ, Global Perspectives and mini-MBA qualifications
  • First half of 6.1 Michaelmas term focuses on core skills common to both Plus qualifications, while mini-MBA course begins
  • Curriculum Extension Programme qualification to be completed by the end of 6.1 year, leaving 6.2 year free to concentrate on A-level completion and revision 

Choosing A-levels

We offer a four block system which caters to as many A-level combinations as possible. Blocks are essential if a school is to undertake setting, which we believe - with the backing of considerable academic evidence – is vital to enable boys to progress and excel at a pace appropriate to them. No block system can provide for every conceivable combination and, in a small number of cases, some boys will need to revise their initial preferences. Advice is available from Heads of Department, Tutors and Paul Gamble, Head of University Entrance. In timetabling five academic years across the 13-18 age range it is sometimes impossible to staff a particular subject’s lower and upper school teaching programme, which would be the consequence of block changes made to accommodate requests for combinations which don’t work with the blocks as presented. 
*Further Maths technically counts as two A-levels, but requires approximately only 75% of the teaching time of two subjects.

Subject option blocks (teaching from Michaelmas 2018)

Radley’s block system
Block 1 Block 2 Block 3 Block 4

History of Art



History of Art







  • Only ONE subject can be chosen from each block    
  • Mathematics and Further Mathematics: those taking these subjects will be taught in block 1 and in lessons that fall outside the blocks in order that the maximum number of different sensible combinations of subjects alongside these two is possible
  • Greek, German, Latin and Music will be taught in such blocks as maximise the number of pupils who wish to take them.

Principles of Choice

It should be noted that there is a very large variety of exciting A-level combinations, which can lead to the study of a wide range of stimulating courses, at top-class universities. It is important to do careful research and to take care to avoid myths or out of date information. For example, a potential doctor or dentist must have Chemistry at the core of his A-levels, but a lawyer does not need to have a set of purely ‘essay subjects’ at A-level, nor do those wanting careers in the financial sector necessarily have to do Maths and/or Economics at A-level.

We also know that boys can enter an equally wide variety of highly successful careers as a result of those courses. These issues are addressed in detail at the February Vth Form Parents’ Meeting, although boys will have been advised about these matters and asked to make initial choices by online poll in the Michaelmas term. It is accepted that a few boys will not settle fully upon their choices until early in the Michaelmas term of their 6.1 year, though of course it is far better if firm and informed choices can be made before then.

In guiding choice it is important to note that:

  • Where a boy is undecided about the future, his choice will quite naturally be determined by his interest in, and aptitude for, various subjects. There is little to restrict the choice of the non-scientist, though various combinations of subjects are often followed and have been found advantageous. Advice is given on these.
  • A boy with scientific ambitions may find his choice of A-level subject rather more restricted. For the study of Medicine, good grades are required in Chemistry, and usually in Biology with Physics or Maths. Anyone considering a course in Veterinary Science must take Chemistry, and is strongly advised to take Biology since it is now required by the majority of Veterinary Schools. For Engineering, Maths and Physics are required A-level subjects. These may be combined with Further Maths, Chemistry or Design. By contrast, entry to the Services, the professions, teaching, the Civil Service, business and industry rarely requires a particular A-level subject.

Sixth Form Work 

There is something of a gulf between GCSE and A-level work. Lower School work is tightly structured. The Sixth Former has to learn quickly how to be independent, manage his time, meet assignment deadlines, write essays and take notes from directed reading. Sixth Form Study Skills resources are provided for time management, noting, reading, essay writing and revision. Additionally, the external study skills experts, Elevate Education, are invited to address the boys at key points in their academic careers. All this supplements the usual subject-specific advice and guidance given by departments.

Equally significant is a boy’s choice of a Form Master (who may teach one of his A-levels), and whose brief is to help him:

  • develop those independent working habits outlined above;
  • monitor work and time spent outside lessons through weekly tutorials;
  • give specialist university advice (alongside the Tutor and Director of University Entrance);
  • foster study beyond the scope of A Levels and;
  • promote the boy’s cultural enrichment.

A number of boys will emerge early in 6.1 as possible Oxbridge candidates (although they will almost certainly have been receiving extension work long before this) and each year we determine a long list at the end of the Lent Term. Competition for Oxbridge places is intense. The departmental academic societies and the school-wide 6.1 Crowson Society and the Upper Sixth Society aim to broaden boys’ minds by introducing them to moral, philosophical, literary, scientific and historical problems at fortnightly meetings, where they are hosted by some of our most accomplished dons.

Additionally, each term 6.1 boys attend lectures on ethical or moral subjects which are designed both to educate and stimulate discussion. This is part of the Personal, Social, Health, Citizenship and Economic programme which runs through Radley from the Shells to 6.2. The Academic Priority Time (APT) slot on Wednesday continues to evolve, extending opportunities for boys to pursue Independent Learning and providing a challenging intellectual experience outside their regular study of exam-based subjects, including a stimulating and varied speaker list.

In 6.2, boys attend a weekly lecture given by a distinguished expert in a particular field. These have included Cabinet ministers, top scientists, intelligence and military professionals and leaders from the worlds of business and commerce.

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