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Computer Science A Level *Fees payable* at Brentwood School

Course description

What is Computer Science?
Computer Science is the study of the (programmable) machine - the detailed workings of the hardware components and software algorithms that have been developed over the past 50 years. 
It is the study of how computers and computer systems work and how they are constructed and progammed. 
Its primary aspects of theory, systems and applications are drawn from the disciplines of Technology, Design, Engineering, Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Social Sciences. 
Computer Science has many sub-fields; some emphasise the computation of specific results (such as computer graphics), while others relate to properties of computational problems (such as computational complexity theory). Still others focus on the challenges in implementing computation. For example, digital hardware design focuses on the electronic systems that execute programs and the communication networks that connect them; programming language theory studies approaches to describing computations; while computer programming applies specific programming languages to solve specific computational problems. A further subfield, human-computer interaction, focuses on the challenges in making computers and computations useful, usable and universally accessible to people. 
To this we might add critical thinking about the social and ethical implications of computing technology. Computer Science is a discipline, like mathematics or physics, that explores foundational principles and ideas (such as techniques for searching the Web), rather than artefacts (such as particular computer programs), although it may use the latter to illuminate the former. Specifically, Computer Science is not 'MT', ICT is a skills-based course focusing, typically, on the use of applications such as databases and spreadsheets. Of course, ICT skills are fundamental, but fundamental to all areas of the curriculum as are literacy and numeracy. 
Computer Science is not just programming, either. A working knowledge of programming is necessary but not sufficient for a thorough grounding in Computer Science Programming nevertheless plays a special role because it is an extremely powerful motivator: nothing motivates students like making computers dance to their tune. For this purpose 'programming' clearly includes scripting and other form of 'glue' that allow us to build working artefacts from software components. 
Skills you will develop
  • A deeper understanding of how computers work and operate 'under the bonnet'
  • The knowledge and the ability to utilize computer hardware and software and related emerging technologies efficiently
  • Logic skills ranging from elementary (yet efficient) use to programming and advanced problem solving 

Course content

Content AQA Computer Science consists of 14 units of study. 

Paper 1 Problem Solving, Programming, and the Practical Exercise 

This is a practical, on-screen, examination which allows candidates to demonstrate their knowledge of the fundamental principles of the subject, focusing on programming through a problem-solving scenario using pre-release material.

Topic list

  • Fundamentals of programming
  • Fundamentals of data structures
  • Systematic approach to problem solving
  • Theory of Computation

Paper 2: Computer Components, Data Representation, The Stored Program Concept and The Internet

Focuses on the hardware and software aspects of Computing as well as the social and economic consequences of Computing.

Topic list

  • Fundamentals of data representation
  • Fundamentals of computer systems
  • Fundamentals of computer organisation and architecture
  • Consequences of uses of computing
  • Fundamentals of communication and networking
  • Fundamentals of databases
  • Big Data
  • Fundamentals of functional programming

The Upper Sixth course builds on the content of Lower Sixth with focus on programming and problem solving including communication and networking.

Paper 3: The Practical Project

The non-exam assessment assesses student's ability to use the knowledge and skills gained through the course to solve or investigate a practical problem. Students will be expected to follow a systematic approach to problem solving.

Topic list

  • Evaluate the possible need for development of a computer-based solution to a real problem
  • Document a design that meets the requirements of a real problem in terms of hardware and software
  • Document the analysis, design, construction, testing, training and maintenance of a programmed solution.

Course Specific Objectives

 The A Level specification in Computer Science should encourage:

  • The capacity for thinking creatively, innovatively, analytically, logically and critically
  • An understanding of the organisation of computer systems including software, hardware, data, communications and people
  • The ability to apply skills, knowledge and understanding of computing, including programming, in a range of contexts to solve problems
  • Project and time management skills
  • The capacity to see relationships between different aspects of the subject and perceive their field of study in a broader perspective
  • An understanding of the consequences of uses of computing, including social, legal, ethical and other issues
  • An awareness of emerging technologies and an appreciation of their potential impact on society.

How the course is taught

The course is normally taught by two subject teachers. The Upper Sixth course is normally taught by three teachers: two share the theory of Paper 1 and Paper 2 and the other supervises the students through the externally assessed practical project. Clearly, there is an expectation of pupil participation, research and independent learning. The Department Library is well resourced for the delivery of this course but further learning resources are available through the Computing Department Virtual Learning Environment. Students are supervised through the process of completing their Internal Assessment


A homework timetable is agreed at the beginning of the course ensuring a frequency and variety that is appropriate to the A Level course. Homework should not merely be 'completed' but used to consolidate learning and improve practical programming skills. Pupils are expected to undertake several hours of independent study outside the classroom and complete tasks set by their teachers.

Preparatory Work

Students are provided with introductory material to study before embarking on the course. This is handed in at the very first lesson for evaluation and marking. Students are then tested on this material within the half term after consolidation in the classroom. 

Entry requirements

A minimum of a grade B at IGCSE Computer Studies or equivalent. 


Internal Assessment

20% of the A Level is coursework. This consists of the practical project— a high level language solution to a real life problem.

External Assessment

The first two papers detailed above make up the 80% externally assessed components of the A Level. 

Paper 1:  2.5 hour on-screen exam — 40% of A Level

Paper 2:  2.5 hour written examination - 40% of A Level

paper 3:  Internally assessed - 75 marks, 20% of A Level.

Future opportunities

According to the latest Association of Graduate Recruiters survey, information technology posts are among the most numerous graduate jobs with some of the highest starting salaries. This is backed up by ('the world's leading career network'), which states that "graduates with degrees in mathematical sciences and informatics are likely to obtain jobs with higher starting salaries than graduates in other disciplines'

The recent Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey shows that 90% of recent Computer Science graduates are in graduate jobs, earning a competitive starting salary within six months of graduation.

The modem world is heavily reliant on computers and the hardware and software is developing and changing all the time. Computing is perceived as a young profession working in a young industry. It retains informality and openness to fresh ideas and practices which many engineering disciplines have lost. There are fewer barriers of age and sex, and the industry is leading the way in flexible working practices and career planning. Constant updating of knowledge is essential. A good computer scientist does not just have skills but learns how to adapt to technological change, with its challenges and opportunities.

Major employers of Computer Science graduates include not only IT and communications companies, such as Microsoft IBM, Hewlett-Packard, BT and Philips, but also important computer users, including investment banks and finance houses.

Further information

Calculators: The use of calculators is not permitted in any computer science examination.

Students will study current computational techniques used to write efficient algorithms. These are implemented into an array of different applications from fluid dynamics to mobile communications and gaming.

You will study the history of the subject from Alan Turing to Bill Gates, Tim Berners-Lee and Mark Zuckerberg!

You will go beyond the scope of the syllabus to gain a deeper understanding of the digital age and the ‘light speed' communication between one computational machine and another.

You will visit the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, studying cipher text and witnessing the 'oldest' working computer in the world.

You will have the opportunity to enter the Informatics Olympiad, a global competition to find the best logical minds in the field of computation

Higher Education opportunities

Computing Science can be studied as a discrete subject at University, indeed one of our pupils has recently been offered a place at Cambridge to study such a course.

That said, many institutions offer joint courses, in which Computer Science is studied alongside subjects such as Mathematics, Engineering and Psychology.

Courses in multimedia technology, game development including 3D graphics and mobile technology are also becoming more popular. 

How to apply

If you want to apply for this course, you will need to contact Brentwood School directly.

Last updated date: 04 January 2017

Key information