Note: This guidance should not be treated in any way as official Pearson Edexcel guidance.
In A-Level Politics there are three Assessment Objectives:
AO1 – Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of political institutions, processes, concepts, theories and issues (35% of the A-Level).
AO2 – Analyse aspects of politics and political information, including in relation to parallels, connections, similarities and differences (35% of the A-Level).
AO3 – Evaluate aspects of politics and political information, including to construct arguments, make substantiated judgements and draw conclusions. (30% of the A-Level).
Why is AO1 so foundational?
AO1 is the foundation for everything else in A-Level Politics. Without good use of knowledge, effective AO2 is not going to be possible and, consequently, AO3 through substantiated judgements will be limited.
What is needed for different levels of AO1 according to the Mark Scheme?
Below is criteria for AO1 within the different levels for 30 Mark Essay questions:
Level 1 – Demonstrates superficial knowledge and understanding of political institutions, processes, concepts, theories and issues, with limited underpinning of analysis and evaluation.
Level 2 – Demonstrates some accurate knowledge and understanding of political institutions, processes, concepts, theories and issues, some of which are selected appropriately in order to underpin analysis and evaluation.
Level 3 – Demonstrates mostly accurate knowledge and understanding of political institutions, processes, concepts, theories and issues, many of which are selected appropriately in order to underpin analysis and evaluation.
Level 4 – Demonstrates accurate knowledge and understanding of political institutions, processes, concepts, theories and issues, which are carefully selected in order to underpin analysis and evaluation.
Level 5 – Demonstrates thorough and in-depth knowledge and understanding of political institutions, processes, concepts, theories and issues, which are effectively selected in order to underpin analysis and evaluation.
What do these descriptors in reality?
The wording of the Mark Scheme is unnecessarily complicated. In reality what they mean is:
Level 1 – The knowledge shown is very limited and the understanding shown of the concepts related to the question is very limited. There is likely to be some significant misunderstanding of concepts and mistaken facts. Any accurate knowledge shown is not really being used to answer the question.
Level 2 – Candidates are starting to show some accurate knowledge. The knowledge used, however, is likely to be limited. In addition, there may also be some inaccuracy. The candidate is starting to show some understanding of the concepts related to the question, but there may still be some aspects of misunderstanding. The candidate is starting to use their knowledge to build an argument to answer the question.
Level 3 – Most of the knowledge that candidates are showing is accurate. There may be some specific knowledge used. Whilst there may be inaccuracies, overall, it is clear the candidate deploys good knowledge to answer the question. In addition, the candidate understands the topic and any misunderstandings are relatively minor. The candidate is now using their knowledge to support arguments more clearly related to the question.
Level 4 – The candidate is routinely showing accurate knowledge. This will also be beginning to be more consistently specific than at Level 3. The candidate is showing they clearly understand the topic and is not showing any significant misunderstanding. The candidate is now selecting knowledge that clearly helps to support the argument they are making.
Level 5 – The candidate is demonstrating thorough knowledge throughout the majority of their essay. Not only is knowledge consistent, it is also regularly showing excellent levels of specificity. The candidate has a very thorough understanding of the concepts related to the question. The candidate is effectively selecting knowledge that helps to drive their argument.
How is it decided where in the Level the mark should be placed?
Put simply, the marking in A-Level Politics is ‘best fit’. An examiner will look at the description of the Level above and the level below. If the mark is closer to the Level above than the level below, it will move up within the level. If it is closer to the level below than above, it will be placed further down in the level. If the distance is the same, it will stay in the middle.
Does knowledge have to be contemporary to be credited?
Any relevant knowledge will be credited. However, Politics is a contemporary subject and examiners will be looking for students to give up to date examples where possible. This is what the Examiner’s Report for 2022 said about this issue:
Examiners would like to encourage use of contemporary examples in both essay and source questions (although students can rest assured that all appropriate examples will be credited). For if history teaches us about our yesterday, politics furnishes us with a view on today. This was evident on all questions, with up-to-date detail provided on political parties, devolved election results, current media events, contemporary pressure groups or recent issues with human rights.
However, this does not mean that more dated examples are not relevant. For example, when talking about resignations under Individual Ministerial Responsibility a student may refer to Estelle Morris in 2002 and receive credit for it but a more recent example such as the resignation of Matt Hancock and this may be better. However, if a student was specifically referring to a Minister who has resigned because they could not ‘handle their brief’ then Morris, despite being a dated example, remains a good one as she resigned admitting publicly she was not up to the job.
What might the different levels look in reality?
In order to see what the different levels might look like in reality, the following question is going to be used:
Q. Evaluate the view that Parliament is effective at scrutinising the Executive in the UK (30 Marks)
Below is the first half of a single section of the essay written at each level. It is making a point, that would then need to be countered before the candidate comes to a judgement on the issue they have just discussed.
Level 5 AO1
Legislating is one of the most important roles of Parliament and is therefore an important part of scrutinising the executive. However, under Standing Order 14 the parliamentary agenda is normally controlled by the executive which limits the ability of opposition parties to effectively do so. In terms of bills, the vast majority of those introduced are Government Bills, with 76.9% of bills from 2015-2021 being tabled by the executive. The means that bills being considered are usually those favoured by the government, meaning the interests of not all constituents are fully represented. In addition, this dominance over the Commons agenda is reinforced by Lord Hailsham’s notion of the ‘elective dictatorship’ – that because of the FPTP voting system and its ‘winner’s bonus’ most governments have a clear majority and can govern as they please without having to worry about undergoing effective scrutiny. For example, Tony Blair had a majority of 179 and did not lose a single Commons vote in his first 8 years as PM, whilst the average government majority since 1945 has been 57.4 seats. his means that the Executive is normally capable of pushing through its agenda because it consistently has the parliamentary arithmetic on its side and preventing even divisive legislation like the Police, Crime and Sentencing Act is very difficult. The elective dictatorship is further cemented by the fact that MPs are very heavily whipped and MPs are normally subject to a three-line whip on Government Bills. MPs are unlikely to rebel because they are beholden to their party for winning and retaining their seat and rely on the patronage of party leaders for career advancement. This might help explain why since the 2019 General Election there are 321 MPs who have never once voted against their own party. The combination of large government majorities and heavy whipping of backbenchers means that often legislative scrutiny in the House of Commons is deeply ineffective.
Rationale: The candidate has selected a theme they will investigate. They have shown thorough knowledge throughout the section. Not only is the knowledge thorough, it has excellent specificity (e.g. name of standing order, percentage of Government Bills, facts about Blair, average majority since 1945). The candidate clearly understands the impact of the control that Government has over legislation. The facts that are being used to make an argument that the Government dominate the legislative process and are linking together two concepts they discuss (government control and size of government majorities). They also using excellent political terminology like ‘elective dictatorship’. (Also note there is a synoptic link to Paper 1 in this section, as is required to reach Level 5 in the Mark Scheme).
Level 4 AO1
Legislating is one of the most important roles of Parliament and is therefore an important area of executive scrutiny. The Government controls the legislative agenda and the vast majority of bills introduced are done so by the Executive. For example, it is the Government that introduce the annual budget into the House of Commons. This means that the bills being considered are normally in the interest of the government and not necessarily in the interests of all constituents. The House of Commons also dominate the Commons agenda because they are numerically superior to other parties in the House Commons, largely because of the winner’s bonus received through through the FPTP voting system. This enables the government to pass legislation without particularly effective scrutiny. For example, Tony Blair only lost 4 House of Commons votes in 10 years, helped by his majorities of 179 and 166. This means that Executive is normally capable of pushing through its agenda in the House of Commons and passing even controversial legislation like the Police, Crime and Sentencing Act (2022). Further to this, MPs are clearly controlled by their party whips and therefore rarely rebel against them. Some MPs almost never vote against their own party, for example Nigel Adams (Conservative) who has not rebelled since 2019. The combination of large majorities and the control of their own party by government mean that often legislative scrutiny in the House of Commons is ineffective.
Rationale: The candidate has selected a theme they will investigate. They have shown good knowledge throughout the section and there are no mistakes or misunderstandings. The knowledge shows some good specificity (e.g. Blair’s defeats, loyal MP) but does not have the same consistent specificity as the Level 5 response. The candidate has clear understanding of the topic and there is no real sense of misunderstanding. They are still using good political terminology, but it is not as precise as that in Level 5.
Level 3 AO1
Legislating is one of the ways Parliament may scrutinise the executive. Legislation has to pass through the House of Commons and House of Lords to become a law and goes through three readings in each House. Following this, it goes to the Monarch for Royal Assent which is always given. The government are in charge of which bills pass through the House of Commons and this gives them a significant amount of power. Due to the voting system for General Elections, they almost always have a majority government and can pass legislation very easily. For example, after 2019 Boris Johnson was able to use his majority to pass his Brexit Deal which can be compared to Theresa May who failed to get her bill passed a number of times. This means that the Executive can normally pass whatever legislation it wants. Further to this, MPs are controlled by their party and MPs rarely vote against them. There are very few MPs who are willing to vote against them in the Parliament. Some MPs do, like Ben Spencer rebelling against the Government’s COVID Passes in 2021, but this is rare. This means that the Government normally get their way and Parliament cannot really stop the Government passing the laws that they want to pass.
Rationale: The candidate has selected a theme they will investigate. They have shown mostly accurate knowledge and understanding, however there are areas that could be clearer. For example, the Level 4 response recognises that the Executive indirectly dominates legislation, but the Level 3 response implies the government directly control this process. The candidate still shows good knowledge, some quite specific, but this is far less often than in the Level 4 answer. The specificity of knowledge is not the same as in Level 4. The answer is not as clearly focused on the question. For example, there is a part on the legislative process which is correct, but does not really add much more to the focus of the question.
Level 2 AO1
One of the ways that the executive might be scrutinised is by Parliament looking at their laws and deciding whether they like them or not. Legislation has to be voted for by both the House of Commons and the Lords before becoming law. They also have to be voted on by the Monarch, even though in modern days they always do. When Parliament pass an Act, it will be the government who have the most say. This is because they are the party with the most MPs. At the moment the party with the most MPs is the Conservatives and the party with the second most is Labour. This means that the Conservatives have more say over laws that Labour do. This is why Boris was able to pass Brexit in 2019. This shows how powerful the government are at passing laws. In addition, MPs don’t get to just do what they want in Parliament and instead have to do what the government tells them to do. If they don’t they are called a rebel and can be in trouble. This for example is what happened to Boris when Theresa May was Prime Minister. As MPs don’t want to rebel and upset the Prime Minister, they just vote the way PMs want and there therefore isn’t very much scrutiny.
Rationale: The candidate has selected a theme they will investigate but it is quite unsophisticated. The candidate shows some knowledge about legislation, but it is not really driving the question anymore. There is also some inaccuracy (like the Monarch having to vote for it). At other points, they show knowledge that is accurate, but is not really driving at the question. The candidate doesn’t show the depth to grapple with the wider points about why the government are in control as is happening in the higher levels. The knowledge shown has some inaccuracy, but is quite unsophisticated.
Level 1 AO1
Legislation means making laws which is something Parliament does, although sometimes the House of Lords stops it happening. There are things called readings which is where MPs try to make their bill become law. The King gets a say in this too but he normally says yes if Parliament wants to pass a law. Parliament is the government and so they can’t scrutinise laws because they are the ones who want it to pass anyway. This is the same as PM Questions, where the PM has to answer questions from MPs. However, he doesn’t really answer them properly and its sometimes called Richard and Judy Politics. This means that laws can pass easily as no-one is willing to question the PM properly about them. This is really bad as people need good laws to make their lives better and Parliament is not very good at making them.
Rationale: The candidate has selected a loose theme but they are never really getting to grips with it. Knowledge shown is scatter-gun if it is accurate, but there is also lots or irrelevant knowledge and a few silly mistakes thrown in. The candidate doesn’t really understand the legislative process as is shown by their reference to PMQs. The candidate doesn’t really get to grips with what the question requires and is therefore stuck very much in Level 1.