A lot has been made of the changes to the A level system, but I think the whole business was blown out of proportion
by the media
for reasons we can only guess at. The fundamental
changes really don't amount to much; the problem has been with the practicalities.
Under the old system, you studied for two years, took your exams, and got your grade. The gap between the two school years was incidental. If you dropped out at any stage before the final exams, you finished with nothing. Now, the course consists of two separate stages - AS, studied in the first year, and A2, studied in the second. At the end of the first year you take the AS exams, and when you get the results you can either "cash them in", and receive an AS (Advanced Subsidiary) level, or hold onto them and take the second year. At the end of the second year you take the A2 exams and either cash in both years to receive an A level, or drop them and just cash in your year-old AS results.
This way, someone who decides after one year that they don't like the subject can still get a qualification, worth half of what they would have got if they'd done both years. It also means someone who did well in the first year but not the second can choose to get a good AS level rather than a bad A level.
If you're sure after one year that you want to do both years, you can leave the AS exams until the end of the second year and sit everything then, as in the old system. If you want to do the full A level but get poor AS results after one year, you can resit them alongside your A2 exams at the end of the second year. Your AS results, if you take the exams at the end of the first year, act as a progress check. This is surely advantageous.
Great Neb points out that five subjects is too many and that some subjects are not suited to a modular structure. I agree on both points, but there's an easy way around them. Don't take five subjects (who gives a rat's ass if your school pressures you?), and if you don't like modularity, take all your exams at the end of the second year. Take your AS exams at the end of both years if you like - the better mark counts.
So some exam boards didn't get their syllabuses sorted out in time when the system was introduced. That's unfortunate - I'm taking some exams this year marked by boards with a bad reputation - but it's not really the new system's fault. It won't be a problem when everyone's got used to the new arrangement.
Tell me if this is writeup too subjective, but I do think the system will turn out to be an improvement, albeit not a revolutionary one.