Starting a conversation on A-level psychology

Is the syllabus already outdated? Ella Rhodes reports.

Two university lecturers have written for The Conversation discussing concerns over whether the current A-level psychology exams and syllabuses, taught to students since September, are already out of date.

University of Sheffield Psychology lecturer Dr China Mills, and Dr Jenny Slater, a Lecturer in Education and Disability Studies at Sheffield Hallam University, also suggested that government policy focusing on ‘nudge’ techniques and ‘fixing’ certain behaviours affects psychology syllabuses. They suggested A-level psychology courses tend to focus on ‘problems’ in individuals and largely ignore societal effects on behaviour – they also link to articles from The Psychologist, including a letter from members of the British Psychological Society urging the psychological community to take societal factors in mental health into account: particularly austerity measures.

In their article Mills and Slater attempted to answer questions on sample psychology A-level exam papers published by AQA – the largest exam board. The question they focus on is: ‘News correspondents in inner cities have remarked upon how young males frequently carry weapons and engage in threatening behaviour. Using your knowledge of evolutionary explanations of aggression, account for these high levels of aggression in young males.’ Their answer asks critical questions about evolutionary theories and points to alternative evidence of the causes of aggression, including research showing that austerity can be linked to mental ill health and potentially feelings of powerlessness which may lead young men to carry weapons. They also suggest racial discrimination within the police may lead young black and Asian men to feel anger at the levels of poverty and discrimination they are facing.

However, their answer would receive few marks according to the AQA marking criteria, which suggests the question should be marked thus: ‘Male aggression derives from need to acquire/defend resources such as mates or territory (in the city) and/or to establish status (in groups of peers or between gangs); male aggression derives from sexual jealousy of other males who may havesex with or steal their mates.’

The authors point out they do not wish to criticise teachers who have to teach this curriculum but write: ‘Rather we hope to start a conversation between students, A-Level teachers, and university teachers, lecturers and professors that could change the very terms by which we understand what psychology means, is, and does.’

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber


From what I read here, it appears to me that there is a movement within the BPS to turn psychology into a lefty pseudo science, ie we're all Guardianistas now. I have been a graduate member for nearly 30 years, also hold a Certificate in Further Education.