Economics A-level – much more than passing an exam - Hurstpierpoint College

Economics A-level – much more than passing an exam

Liam Agate, Director of Academic Development/Head of Business and Economics at Hurst College explains how studying Economics A-level opens students’ eyes to what is behind data and figures

The IMF predicts that the UK economy will see its gross domestic product (GDP) increase by just 0.3% in 2023, the smallest such increase of the G7 nations. This figure has been the subject of much political wrangling, with the gloomy figures being blamed variously on Brexit, the effects of the war in Ukraine, or mismanagement of the economy by the current Conservative administration. But, despite GDP’s omnipresence in reports of the health of the economy, how many people can honestly say they understand what this GDP projection actually means?

Measuring economic performance

Someone who would be able to explain the intricacies of GDP as a measure of economic performance would be your average Economics A-level student. Key to the study of the subject is understanding how measures of economic performance are calculated, and what changes in the measures mean for stakeholders in society. GDP is considered alongside, for example, the CPI (Consumer Price Index) and RPI (Retail Price Index) as measures of inflation, and the Claimant Count and Labour Force Survey measures of unemployment. These headline figures are so regularly quoted by journalists and commentators – and often misquoted by politicians – and yet general understanding of the terms is patchy at best.

By learning about each measures’ methodologies, students begin to get under the skin of what these figures really mean, and by studying their temporal patterns they are further able to place the current UK economic performance in a historic context, giving them insight that even the most engaged social media pundit often lacks.

Alternatives to GDP

It is not just how to interpret the facts and figures that Economics students learn. Through the need to constantly evaluate their arguments, students are pushed into critically examining the inherently political nature of these measures. GDP is not the only measure of economic growth; its primacy is a choice that has significant implications on what is and is not valued in society.

The syllabus ensures students question the use of GDP as a measure of wellbeing, for example, inviting them to question the limitations of GDP’s focus on solely income. Students look to countries such as New Zealand when, under the leadership of Jacinda Ardern, alternatives to GDP that better consider the impact on wellbeing were used to measure the impact of economic policies, or places such as Bhutan which has used Gross National Happiness as their headline measure of economic performance since 2008. This use of case studies from around the world also helps to build student awareness of how different societies approach issues from different viewpoints.

Distribution of income

Additional critiques covered in the A-level syllabus are GDP’s lack of concern for the distribution of income within society. The large amount of work, such as housework and care work, that is disproportionately carried out by women goes unrecorded when measuring GDP, and the disregard of the environmental impact that the pursuit of GDP growth entails. The more engaged students enjoy forming their own opinions on the usefulness of the measure. Some call for radical alternatives, and some defend the status quo. Some even go onto further reading, picking up Diane Coyle’s GDP: A Brief and Affectionate History or Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics, to delve even deeper into the debate, and to set themselves up for an impressive personal statement as a gateway to studying Economics at undergraduate level.

Studying Economics A-level is much more than passing an exam for inclusion on a UCAS form. The subject opens students’ eyes to what is behind the data that is ubiquitous in political discourse and enriches a student’s ability to engage as citizens in democratic debate. The discussion of GDP above only accounts for the first two lessons of the course. Wait until we get to the lesson about the merits and demerits of higher rates of income tax!


Find out more about studying Economics at Hurst College

Learn more about Gross Domestic Product (GDP)