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A Level Politics

Study A Level Politics at St Edmund’s College and develop your knowledge of topical issue in British politics.

Right now, British politics is possibly more exciting than it has ever been. Widespread constitutional reforms have changed the political map. The establishment of the Parliament in Scotland and Assemblies in Wales, Northern Ireland and London mean power is shifting. And there is Brexit. Will the UK thrive outside the EU or will it struggle to survive as a nation state?

Is indeed, the age of the nation state passing and a new chapter in human political history beginning? Can elitist politicians provide leadership in an increasingly democratic system in an age of electronic information and leaks, or will demagogues like Cleon of old bring down that which they so loudly claim to love?

This course will develop your knowledge of these topical questions, alongside a range of broader skills that will prepare you for life beyond Sixth Form.

Enrichment opportunities at St Ed’s include:

  • Model United Nations
Head of Department Mr C Barkham MA (Glasgow) PGCE (Glasgow)
Syllabus Edexcel

Course structure

A Level Politics enables students to:

  • Comprehend and interpret political information in relation to areas of global politics
  • Understand, critically analyse, and evaluate areas of global politics
  • Identify parallels, connections, similarities and differences between the content studied, to compare global issues, such as conflict, poverty, human rights and the environment
  • Construct and communicate arguments and explanations with relevance, clarity and coherence and draw reasoned conclusions about global politics
  • Develop knowledge and understanding of key political concepts
  • Students must use appropriate vocabulary

The course covers three components over the two-year period. With three assessments at the end of Rhetoric II (Year 13).


Component 1 - UK politics

There are two sections within this component, UK politics and core political ideas

This component aims to explain the process of political participation in its various forms and emphasise that democracy is a process and not simply an event. It also examines the three core political ideas that impinge upon mainstream British politics; Liberalism, Conservatism and Socialism.

Democracy and participation

This section examines theories of democracy such as direct versus representative democracy and examines the compatibility and competing legitimacy of the two. Over time more and more people have been enfranchised, but people are choosing not to exercise that right. Why?

Will this change as the New Consensus established during the 1990s comes to a possible close. However, as people are less prepared to cast their ballot, they are more and more willing to join political pressure groups to campaign on single issues. During the course students are expected to monitor the work of two pressure groups over the two years of the course as a basis for examination responses.

Finally the question of rights is examined. Have British citizens fought long and hard for these rights only to lose any sense of civic responsibility?

Political parties

The old two party system has been eroded over several decades. The Labour and Conservative Parties still dominate nationally, but the emergence of devolved assemblies and regional politics has challenged their stranglehold on power. Has the post Blair/Cameron world seen the emergence of a real alternative in the form of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.

Why have the Liberal Democrats not been able to maintain the momentum built during the 1980s and 1990s. The question of whether the old two party system will re-assert itself or the UK is on the verge of real multi-party politics is a question that is only in the process of being answered.

Electoral pystems

One person, one vote? Well that depends on the system being used.

The UK no longer has an electoral system, but different systems are used in different elections. Which of these provide better representation for the diverse political interests of the modern UK and which provides better government? Are the two incompatible?

Voting behaviour and the media

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter” Winston Churchill

But why do people vote the way they do? Familial alignment is still the biggest factor in determining which way the UK voter will cast their ballot, though this is declining.

With a changing concept of class within the nation and the emergence of a multicultural electorate, the question of why people vote the way they do is of great interest. How influential is the traditional media in the electronic age? Perhaps most importantly of all, why are people choosing not to vote?

Core political ideas

This part of the unit examines the evolution of Conservatism, Liberalism and Socialism. What these labels  represent today is not necessarily how they started and why two individuals who identify with one of these labels can appear to be so at odds is an important question, increasingly highlighted by political questions such as Brexit.

Component 2 - UK Government and non-core political ideas

There are two sections within this component – UK Government and non-core political ideas.

This component is fundamental to understanding the nature of UK government, since it enables students to understand where, how and by whom political decisions are made. The component also gives students a base of comparison to other political systems.


  • The structure and role of the House of Commons and House of Lords
  • The selection of members, comparative powers and main functions of both Houses
  • The exclusive powers of the House of Commons
  • The main powers and role of the House of Lords
  • Debates about the relative power of both houses and arguments for reform
  • How a bill becomes law and the interaction between both Houses during the legislative process
  • The ways in which Parliament interacts with and keeps a check on the Executive.
  • The role and significance of backbenchers in both Houses.
  • The work and importance of select committees.
  • The role and significance of the opposition.
  • The purpose and nature of ministerial question time, including Prime Minister’s Questions.

Prime Minister and Executive

  • The structure, role, and powers of the Executive.
  • The concept of ministerial responsibility and of collective ministerial responsibility.
  • The power of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.
  • The factors governing the Prime Minister’s selection of ministers.
  • The factors that affect the relationship between the Cabinet and the Prime Minister, and the ways they have changed and the balance of power between the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.
  • The concept of Prime Ministerial Government and the powers of the Prime Minster and the Cabinet to dictate events and determine policy.
  • Students will study two case studies on the influence of Prime Ministers, one pre 1997 and one post 1997.

The Constitution

  • The nature and sources of the UK constitution.
  • How the constitution has changed since 1997.
  • The role and powers of devolved bodies in the UK, the impact of this devolution and debates on further reform.
  • An overview of the extent to which the reforms since 1997 should be taken further.

Relations between branches

  • The role and composition of Supreme Court and its interactions with, and influence over, the legislative and policy-making processes.
  • The key operating principles of the Supreme Court, including judicial neutrality and judicial independence.
  • The degree to which the Supreme Court influences both the Executive and Parliament and the relationship between the Executive and Parliament.
  • The influence and effectiveness of Parliament in holding the Executive to account.
  • The influence and effectiveness of the Executive in attempting to exercise dominance over Parliament and the extent to which the balance has changed.
  • The aims, role and impact of the EU on UK government, including the ‘four freedoms’ of the single market, social policy, and political and economic union and the extent to which these have been achieved.
  • The role of the EU in policy making.
  • The impact of the EU, including the main effects of at least two EU policies and their impact on the UK.
  • The location of sovereignty in the UK political system.
  • The distinction between legal sovereignty and political sovereignty.
  • The extent to which sovereignty has moved between different branches of government and where sovereignty can now be said to lie in the UK.

Nationalism: core ideas and principles

  • Core ideas and principles of nationalism and how they relate to human nature, the state, society and the economy, looking specifically at: nations, self-determination, nation, culturalism, racialism and internationalism.
  • Examination of Liberal nationalism, Conservative nationalism and Expansionist nationalism.
  • A study of the following Nationalist thinkers and their ideas: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Johann Gottfried von Herder, Giuseppe Mazzini, Charles Maurras and Marcus Garvey.
Component - Global politics

Students will study global governance and how national and international organisations interact with each other. This will be studied in relation to the following content sections:

The state and globalisation

This examines the structure of the nation state and the concept of national sovereignty and how different states are connected by a complex web and what is driving the creation of that. This necessarily impacts on the functioning nation state and the ensuing debate between hyperglobalisers and sceptics as polemics.

Global governance: political and economic

There are many, often competing organisations that contribute to this. Best known are The United Nations and, from a European perspective, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Do these organisations represent a better future, or are they the relics of a war, the consequences of which have long been superseded?However, attempts at world governance also cover the economic realm; the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation and the G7(8) are all major players in attempting to maintain economic and hence political stability. Can these bodies find a remedy for the global north-south divide?

Global governance: human rights and environmental

The concept of human rights and civil rights are increasingly voiced in our world. Where did these come from and what impact do they have? Do they protect the citizen from the undue actions of increasingly intrusive government or do they prevent government from taking the necessary pragmatic steps to protect the nation and its people? The governments of the west portray themselves as the guardians of these ideas, but to what extent do they act hypocritically, if at all, within the confines of their own jurisdictions.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are designed to manage the threat of climate change. Yet why have the Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen and Paris accords proven so controversial for some? Are they designed to protect the mundus for all, or simply a rearguard action by western powers in decline to maintain their economic and political pre-eminence?

Power and developments

For those of us with less breakfasts ahead than behind the world had an order we understood; that is now changing. The USA is a superpower in decline, economically challenged by the emergent BRICS nations and sometimes politically as well. Does the USA still have the hard power to direct the globe. As a hegemonic   power in the post-Cold War world, it faced little challenge. The development of a multi-polar world order, not all of which espouse pluralistic liberal democratic ideals, backed by emergent economies are bringing American pre-eminence to an end. Do these changes hinder globalisation or simply provide new perspectives on how it should be achieved?

Regionalism and the EU

The UK may be leaving the EU, but the EU is not shutting up shop. Some see it as in terminal decline, whilst others see that freed of the UK’s economically driven motives that it could emerge as the next global superpower. Nor is it the only supranational organisation with political impact; the embattled North American Free Trade Association, the African Union and the Arab League are all part of the emerging regional political and economic identities that impact on globalisation. Is the nation state dying or will basic tribalism halt the growth of larger political structures.

Reading list

Component 1

Any student of Politics must be aware of its changing nature, but the following books are offered as suggestions for additional reading and support:

  • Cocker, P. and Jones, A., Contemporary British Politics and Government, (Liverpool Academic, 2002)
  • Coxall, B., Robins , L.. and Leach, R., Contemporary British Politics, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003)
  • Denver, D., Elections and Voters in Britain, (Palgrave, 2006)
  • Jones, B., (ed.), Politics UK, (Pearson Education, 2007)
  • Kingdom, J., Government and Politics in Britain: an Introduction, (Polity, 2003)
  • Pattie, C., Seyd, P. and Whiteley, P., Citizenship in Britain: Values, Participation and Democracy, (Cambridge University Press, 2004)
  • Smith, N., UK Parties and Pressure Groups Advanced TopicMaster, (Philip Allan Updates, 2006)
  • Watts, D., British Government and Politics: A Comparative Guide, (Edinburgh University Press, 2006)

Journals and newspapers

  • Politics Review
  • The Economist

Students are also advised to critically read daily newspapers in either printed format or online including, The Guardian, The Independent, The Sun, The Times and The Telegraph.

Relevant websites

Political parties

Selected pressure groups

Component 2

Any student of Politics must be aware of its changing nature, but the following books are offered as suggestions for additional reading and support:

  • Bognador, V., The New British Constitution, (Hart Publishing, 2009)
  • Dowding, K., The Civil Service, (Routledge, 1995)
  • Hennessy, P., Whitehall, (Fontana, 1990)
  • Hennessy, P., The Prime Minister: The Office and Its Holders Since 1945, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2001)
  • Jennings, I., Cabinet Government, 3rd Edition, (Cambridge University Press, 2009)
  • Loughlin, M, The British Constitution: A Very Short Introduction, (Oxford University Press, 2013)
  • Richards, D., and Smith, M., Governance and Public Policy in the UK, (Oxford University Press, 2005)
  • Grosby, S., Nationalism: A Very Short Introduction, (Oxford University Press, 2005)
  • Hutchinson, J. and Smith, A., Nationalism, (Oxford University Press, 1995)

Relevant websites

Component 3

Students are encouraged to read a variety of material and consult reliable websites. The following are good starting point.

Additional reading list

  • Fukuyama, F., The End of History and the Last Man, 20th Anniversary Edition, (Penguin, 2012)
  • Hague, R. et al, Comparative Government and Politics: An Introduction, 10th Edition, (Palgrave, 2016)
  • Heywood, A., Political Ideologies: An Introduction, 6th Edition, (Red Globe Press, 2017)
  • Huntington, S., The Clash Of Civilizations: And The Remaking Of World Order, (Simon & Schuster, 2002)

Relevant websites


A Level Politicis is examined by three papers examining three objectives or AOs;

AO1 Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of political institutions, processes, concepts, theories and issues.

A02 Analyse aspects of politics and political information, including in relation to parallels, connections, similarities and differences.

AO3 Evaluate aspects of politics and political information, including to construct arguments, make substantiated judgements and draw conclusions.

Component 1

Written assessment (2 hours, 84 marks, 33.3%)

The assessment consists of two sections;

  • Section A – Political Participation which is worth 60 marks
  • Section B –Core Political Ideas which is worth 24 marks.

Component 2

Written assessment (2 hours, 84 marks, 33.3%)

The assessment consists of two sections;

  • Section A – UK Government which is worth 60 marks
  • Section B – Non-core Political Ideas which is worth 24 marks.

Component 3

Written assessment (2 hours, 84 marks, 33.3%)

The assessment consists of three sections;

  • Section A– Students choose 1 question out of a choice of 2 ( Total 12 marks)
  • Section B – Students answer 1 question. (Total 12 marks)
  • Section C– Students answer 2 questions out of a choice of 3, each question is worth 30 marks (Total 60 marks)


Key skills developed
Cognitive skills

  • Non-routine problem solving
  • Systems thinking – decision making and reasoning.
  • Critical thinking –Analysing, synthesising and reasoning
  • ICT literacy – access, manage, integrate, evaluate, construct and communicate.
Interpersonal skills

  • Communication – active listening, oral and written communication.
  • Relationship-building skills – teamwork, trust, intercultural sensitivity, conflict resolution and negotiation.


Intrapersonal skills

  • Adaptability – ability and willingness to cope with the uncertain, handling work stress, adapting to different personalities, communication styles and cultures.
  • Self-management and self-development – ability to work autonomously, be self-motivating and self-monitoring, willing and able to acquire new information and skills related to work.
History is past politics, and politics is present history.
E. A. Freeman (1823-92), Historian, architectural artist, and Liberal politician

Future pathways

A Level Politics opens up a range of future career possibilities, including roles in the civil service or Government, research, policing, education, the diplomatic service, NGOs and the not-for-profit sector.