A level Politics course

Lively debate and discussion are at the heart of A level Politics at Ashbourne with students bringing an exciting mix of viewpoints  as they explore different theoretical and political traditions.

Why study A level Politics?

Forget boring men in grey suits; politics has exploded into a riot of colour: school children striking for ‘Climate Action’; Britain and Europe battling over divorce proceedings; constitutional crises and unlawful suspensions of Parliament; Tory ‘Remainers’ ousted; Labour’s worst electoral defeat since 1935; Lib Dems not quite living up to their name; Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP landslide and demands for another Scottish independence referendum; global resurgence of the far right; capricious presidents from Trump and Putin to Kim Jong-un and Rodrigo Duterte; digital interference in voting systems and global terrorism. Arguably it could not be a better time, albeit extremely volatile, to study politics.

‘Politics’ shapes the world we live in from the tax we pay to what kind of education we receive. On a national and global scale it affects our future security and quality of life. Politics is an excellent subject choice for students who want to begin to fathom and take an active part in the world around them.
Politics is, furthermore, a highly regarded subject and excellent foundation for many degree courses including Law, International Relations and Journalism amongst others.

Over the course students will investigate the role played by political parties, pressure groups, electoral systems, voter behaviour and the media in shaping the way the UK is governed, as well as examining constitutional history and the wider concept of representation and democracy within the political culture.
Students will also look into the role of the European Union and issues affecting it and key institutions, forces and structures relating to global governance, war, peace, security, globalisation, nuclear proliferation, international law, human rights and humanitarian intervention.
We actively encouraged students to explore this subject from many angles and to keep up to date with current affairs. Dennis provides a wide range of texts and multimedia sources for students to draw from and produces an excellent Politics blog with comprehensive coverage of all areas of the course and relevant and up-to-date posts on news and views relating to the subject.

Students are also given extensive examine technique practice and university and career advice.

Beyond A level Politics

Politics is a highly regarded A Level which can lead to many degree courses including Politics, War and Peace Studies, International Relations, History, Economics and Law. It will not necessarily lead to a career in politics but could provide a good foundation for students who wish to pursue careers in journalism, the Civil Service, Development or Law, for example.

Which syllabus do we follow?

Ashbourne follows the Edexcel specification for A level Politics.

What is covered in this course?


Political parties

Are Margaret Thatcher’s policies and ideals still alive and kicking harder than ever in the Conservative party? Will Labour’s swing to the left spell the break up of the party? Will the Liberal Democrats ever recover after their part in a Conservative coalition government that saw tuition fees hiked, NHS privatisation pushed further and public services slashed? How much sway does Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party have over British politics? Is the Green party really a viable ‘opposition’? And will the Brexit Party fizzle out if they manage to get the UK out of the EU? You will explore how the UK’s political parties’ core beliefs are shaped and change, and what differentiates them from each other.

Pressure groups

The Trade Union Congress, Confederation of British Industry, British Medical Association, National Farmers’ Union, Amnesty International and Greenpeace are just a few ‘groups’ that exert pressure on political decision makers to create or change government policy in favour of their agenda. In fact, you can do the same simply by writing to your MP asking him or her to bring up your concerns in Parliament.
You will find out whom pressure groups represent, what tactics and methods they use to get across their viewpoints and how much influence they really wield over policy direction and change. You will also discuss to what extent their political leaning is permissible and justified in a democracy.

Representation and Democracy

33.6 million people voted in the UK’s EU referendum making a record turnout of more than 72%. This is an example of direct democracy where all those eligible get to cast their vote on a single issue. On most other issues an elected group (MPs) debate and vote on policies to be adopted, amended or scrapped on behalf of the rest of the population. This is representative democracy. Most ‘western’-style democracies are derived from this general concept of democracy.
With such huge numbers voting in the referendum, an upsurge in Labour Party membership following the referendum and under 25s rushing to register to vote in the general election you may think political apathy is dead. So do people still need to be encouraged, or compelled, to play more of an active role in shaping the political parties and decisions that govern their lives?
You will explore different types of democracy and discuss what constitutes a liberal democracy and to what extent it differs from representative democracy, as well as how the public engages with and participates in the political process.

Electoral Systems

A variety of electoral or voting systems are used in the UK to elect mayors and representatives to the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales, Northern Ireland Assembly, European Parliament (for the time being) and local authorities.
The system used to elect MPs to the House of Commons is called ‘first-past-the-post’. The candidate who wins the most votes in their constituency (of which there are currently 650 across the UK) gets a seat in Parliament. Then the Party with the most seats in Parliament becomes the Government of the day, regardless of whether they have a majority or not. This system is also used in local elections.
Most MPs are endorsed by less than a third of their constituency; some far less than that. The House of Lords remains unelected. Yet in 2011 the British public rejected (via referendum) the chance to move to the Alternative Vote system and successive attempts to reform the House of Lords have faltered.
In this unit you will explore the major electoral systems used in the UK, how they work, the pros and cons of each system and why proposed reforms to chance voting systems have failed.

Governing the UK

Have you ever met your MP? Do you even know who your MP is? Did they go to your school? Do they work in your local community? Do they understand and appreciate your needs? Some MPs have been accused of being out of touch with the general public having come from elite backgrounds and are deemed incapable of representing the people they stand for. Would a different voting system generate a more representative body of MPs?
Perhaps Parliament is losing its power anyway thanks to huge ‘constitutional’ changes like devolution. Or will Parliament ‘resume’ power now Britain is ‘taking back control’ and leaving the EU? Will the government’s ‘great repeal bill’ – granting temporary powers enabling ministers to ‘tweak’ laws – blur the lines of power between the executive, legislative and judiciary as Britain unpicks 43 years of EU treaties and agreements?
In this unit you will explore the role and function of Parliament, discuss whether MPs fairly and effectively represent their constituents and how far they should or do follow party line. You will examine the influence of lobby groups on legislation and discuss whether, or how, Parliament should be reformed.

The Executive

The Prime Minister is elected by the party not directly by the voters, and can choose who to appoint to the Cabinet, be they loyal supporters or rivals. Decisions made by the Cabinet, as chaired by the Prime Minister, must then be supported by all Cabinet members whether they agree or not. This puts the Prime Minister in a powerful position if they are shrewd enough to use it. If any member dissents they must resign, as in the case of Labour Cabinet Members Clare Short and the late Robin Cook over Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War. The Prime Minister also has the power to appoint junior ministers, senior civil servants, peers, bishops and judges.
The Prime Minister, Cabinet Members and other core appointees make up the executive that has the authority and responsibility to govern.
In this unit you will investigate how prime ministers wield their power, whether they have too much and what may limit their powers. You will assess the effectiveness of Cabinet as a collective decision-making body and identify how decisions may be made beyond their reach. You will also touch on the impact of party coalition upon policy formulation?

Judiciary and Civil Liberties:

What is the role of the Judiciary in the UK system of governance? How far is it independent and neutral? Why has the Human Rights Act increasingly brought the government and senior judges into conflict? To what extent does the judiciary guarantee and protect civil liberties?

The UK Constitution

Why (almost uniquely) is the constitution not codified into a single source document? Where do constitutional checks and balances come from? How far is the UK constitution flexible and what dangers might this pose to rights and freedoms?

Global Politics

Structures of Global Politics:

Students will begin by exploring some of the key concepts in International Politics; they will learn to understand what is meant by terminology such as sovereignty and will begin to investigate how the process of globalisation is affecting the individuality and independence of nations. They will then go on to look at the relationships that nations have to one another and how those relationships have changed since 1989. Finally they will examine the role and significance of international organisations such as the UN, NATO and the EU and the institutions of global economic governance including the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO.

Issues in Global Politics:

This unit deals with key issues in recent global politics. Particular emphasis is placed on developments since 9/11. Students will explore the concept of warfare in the early twenty-first century and the concept of ‘new’ wars. They will explore nuclear proliferation and terrorism. Students will discuss the effectiveness of the growing body of international law, explore human rights and the principle of humanitarian intervention. We will also study global poverty and development and explore global environmental politics.

Who teaches this course?

Dennis Fulcher

Head of Faculty: Multimedia and Social Sciences
MA Government and Political Studies (London Metropolitan University); BSc Hons Sociology (Kingston); NVQ L4 Print Journalism with industry placement (Richmond Adult Community College); PGCE (Post Compulsory Education) (Greenwich)

Dennis brings a great deal of knowledge and experience to teaching Politics. He offers stimulating and engaging teaching materials in a variety of formats and uses innovative learning exercises to encourage students to take ownership of their learning and development throughout the course. Dennis has an excellent track record of helping his students achieve top grades, and he is highly regarded by his students.

Dennis has been working at Ashbourne for many years and teaches a broad range of subjects including Politics (of course), Film, Media, Law and Psychology. He is also a team leader for Government and Politics A level examiners.

Michael Wilkinson

BA Politics (SOAS); MSc Politics Sociology (Birkbeck College, University of London)

Michael Wilkinson began teaching Government and Politics at Ashbourne in September 2009. Prior to this, he worked as a researcher at the Home Office and thus has some first hand insight into the nature of the UK political system. He has also been involved in freelance social research work at the University of Surrey, and tutoring for undergraduate courses in Sociology.

Reading and resources

UK Broadsheets

The Times
The Independent
The Guardian
The Telegraph
Financial Times


Edexcel exam board
Guidelines, learning materials and resources for studying A level Politics.
News and politics from the UK and around the world.
Civil and human rights campaign movement.
UK Parliament website
Live debates and news from the House of Commons and Lords, information on upcoming legislation and bills, clear explanations on the structure and running of government and ways to get involved in politics.
Reform Acts and representative democracy
Overview, key dates and other resources from UK Parliament website.
Democratic Audit UK
Independent research unit based at the London School of Economics that monitors ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ in Britain and produces a range of blogs, assessments, reports and election data.

Magazines and Periodicals

The Economist
Broadly liberal freemarket weekly publication offering news and views on international current affairs, politics, business, finance, science, technology and the arts, established 1843.
Right-wing weekly magazine on current affairs, politics and culture, published since 1828.
Largely left-wing magazine focusing on current affairs, world politics, science, technology and the arts. Established in 1913.
Private Eye
Weekly satirical current affairs magazine taking a poke at the establishment and exposing what’s really going on behind the scenes.
Foreign Affairs
US foreign policy and international affairs publication and website, established in 1922.

Television, Radio and Podcasts

Current affairs programme (on BBC 2) famous for rigorous cross-examination of senior political figures and news analysis.
Question Time
Topical news debate (BBC 1), presented by David Dimbleby, featuring key political and public figures who answer questions posed by the public.
Current affairs programme (BBC 1) featuring interviews and investigative reports on a wide range of issues.
Sophy Ridge on Sunday
Political correspondent Sophy Ridge covers the major political issues of the week on Sky’s Sunday news programme.
Peston on Sunday
ITV political discussion programme on the week’s news led by Robert Peston and featuring politicians and public figures.
The Andrew Marr Show
Andrew Marr, former BBC Political Editor, explores the week’s current affairs and interviews key political figures.
Have I Got News for You
Comedy news quiz (BBC 1) with celebrity guests and regulars Ian Hislop and Paul Merton.
Daily news and current affairs coverage from BBC Radio 4.
Today In Parliament
News, views and features on today’s stories in Parliament from the BBC.
In Our Time
Highly acclaimed BBC Radio 4 discussion programme presented by Melvyn Bragg exploring the history of ideas.
Week In Westminster
Guest political journalists take a look behind the scenes this week in Westminster, BBC Radio 4.
The News Quiz
Topical news quiz (BBC radio 4) where the players offer a humorous take on the week’s events.
Politics UK Archive
Weekly view inside British politics from the BBC. The archive includes a wide range of issues.

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