The study of Business and Economics qualifications at school is growing – for instance both Economics and Business uptake at A-Level grew about 10% in a year from 2021-2022 and Business has grown 25% in four years. Many parents and pupils ponder whether to enroll in these relatively unfamiliar topics and if they do confirm, then the decision is which to take – generally its difficult to take both, because of availability or time constraints.
I tutor both of these topics academically and have a strong background in industry so perhaps I can help.
First, what’s available and what’s the uptake.
For GCSE Economics, of the two major Boards, AQA offer Economics but Pearson Edexcel don’t, unless you can do International GCSE. Other Boards like OCR and CIE also offer GCSE Economics.
For GCSE Business (used to be called Business Studies) both AQA and Pearson Edexcel offer Business as well as other Boards.
For A Level, both Edexcel and AQA offer both Economics and Business, as do other Boards.
So essentially both topics are available at both GCSE and A-Level – if, and it’s a big if – the school has teaching capability. With fairly small cohorts of pupils, some schools may opt not to teach it.
For GCSE, around 12% of all pupils took Business, and around 2% took Economics.
This large difference is not shown at A-Level, where about 12% of all pupils took Business, and about 11% took Economics.
How does that compare to other subjects? You may be surprised to learn that this puts Business or Economics at about the same level as Physics and above Geography for A Level.
So in summary, both Business and Economics are growing in popularity; Business is taken by a reasonable proportion of the cohort at GCSE level, while at A-Level both are.
What do they cover?
Obviously A-Level is more developed than GCSE but both Business qualifications cover broadly the same themes and topics such as:
- Understanding what a business is and how it operates, is organised and meets customer needs, and what characteristics its start-up entrepreneurs and leaders display, such as attitude to risk.
- Both generic business aspects and also many individual businesses; for instance portfolio analysis of multinationals like Apple or Nissan, or strengths and weaknesses of smaller business.
- Marketing definition, research, segmentation, planning, positioning, and strategies in a U.K, in a U.K. and global context for both niche and mainstream businesses.
- Marketing mix across Product Price Place and Promotion
- Sales concepts such as price elasticity of demand and sales forecasting and methods
- Financial sources and planning ,managing finance, the financial ratios associated with the three key reports namely profit and loss, balance sheet and cashflow; project appraisal methods such as payback time; and external influences such as interest rate, Inflation and exchange rate.
- Operational aspects such as factors and type of production, economies of scale, quality, and measures such as productivity and capacity utilisation
- Business objectives and strategy – such as focus on cost or differentiation; business growth, and decision-making techniques; competitive advantage and overcoming barriers to entry
- Human resources aspects such as organisation design, legal aspects and employee motivation
Then Economics, again for GCSE and A-Level
- Nature of economics – the fundamental economic problem of allocating scarce resources to meet unlimited demand
- Economics as a social science including both behavioural economics and balancing economic policy with moral and political concerns such as poverty and inequality
- Markets – how markets are structured and governments work, why they can fail economically and what interventions can be made
- The UK economy – its performance and macroeconomic aspects
- Measures of economic performance like G.D.P. and economic objectives like 2% inflation
- Definitions and calculations of aggregate supply and demand, and key diagrams like supply-demand graphs of price against output, and shifts, and production frontiers.
- Supply-demand case studies such as for Oil, Housing and Transport
- Economic philosophies such as Keynesian, Classical and Laissez-Faire free market
- Mixed economy concept such as private and public sector, public and private goods, merit and de-merit goods
- Macroeconomic policies such as fiscal (taxation and Government spending); and monetary policies such as interest rate
- Role of bank of England, Banks and financial markets
- Supply-side and demand-side initiatives such as productivity and tax-cuts.
- Microeconomic aspects such as business behaviour and the labour market; business growth, objectives and revenues, costs and profits
- Price, Income and cross elasticity of demand and supply
- Competitive aspects such as, perfect competition, oligopolies and monopolies
- Time based considerations such as short and long-run; and scale-based such as marginal versus average cost
- Trade on a UK and International basis; trade bodies like E.U. and W.T.O; globalisation
What are the crossovers/similariries and what are the differences?
There are many cross-overs in topics, ranging from factors of production, employment legislation, through effect of interest rates, to membership of international trade bodies. Three of the main differences are:
– the level of detail in which a topic is approached: for instance the supply-demand equilibrium diagram is only a small part of the Business syllabus but forms a major element of Economics.
– the micro or macro perspective: the Business syllabus is much more focused upon individual company case-studies, ranging from household names down to the smallest start-up; whereas Economics is much more tuned to the aggregate of the whole economy (in our case U.K.) Another example would be the approach to a current hot-topic, electric vehicles: Economics might look at the benefits of Government subsidies to the whole industry, and whether consumers or companies as a whole would take the major share of the subsidy benefit; whereas Business would look at individual car companies like Ford or Nissan. and how EV’s fit in with their specific objectives and strategies, for instance of growth and diversification, and the implications for a new type of manufacturing.
– The type of calculation : Business requires students to perform a host of calculations for individual businesses such as profitability and liquidity ratios, project appraisals, break-even, gearing, capacity utilisation, critical path analyses, moving average sales forecast, and decision trees. Whereas with Economics, there are some calculations to do, but much more at the whole-country economy level such as the formulae for components of Aggregate Demand (the total U.K spending on goods and services); marginal propensities to consume or save; the multiplier effect; the GINI coefficient for inequality.
The Maths skills are easier than you think.
You can see above that many calculations are required. Of course you need to know and understand the formulae – they will be taught. But the actual Maths techniques are often not much more than BIDMAS and % calculations of % change and % of one quantity to another. Calculators are always allowed. There would never be a quadratic equation, or geometric proof, for instance. At A-Level you would cover standard deviation in Maths, but not in Economics, where you would think it might fit, or Business.
You do need to understand graphs, typically bar charts or line charts. The two approaches for Business and Economics are fundamentally different through. In Business, a graph will usually have a numerical scale from which a specific number can be gleaned. Whereas in Economics the graphs and diagrams are generally without a scale, since you just need to explain the overall shape or trend or shift.
How do the examiners mark exams?
There is a lot of similarity in the approaches for instance both have four “Assessment Objectives” : AO1, for Knowledge, AO2 for Application, AO3 for Analysis and AO4 for Evaluation. Both have short-sharp questions, and also longer essay questions where reasoned logic and justified conclusions are important. A slight difference is that Economics is more likely to have some multiple choice questions.
What are the alternatives and natural A-Level partners?
The beauty of both these topics is that being essentially social sciences, they could fit with Arts topics like languages; mid spectrum topics like Geography or Politics, Religious Studies or Sociology; or STEM topics like Maths or Physics. An alternative incidentally is the very new T-Level range of technical qualifications which includes Management and Administration, which is a single topic equivalent to three A-Levels as it involves a practical placement and workplace project as well as theory.
Further Education and Career prospects
Both topics have very firm University and career paths, albeit slightly different. A Business degree could lead to a Masters qualification in the famous MBA (Master of Business Administration) and a career to a senior position within a Business or starting up your own. A typical Economics Degree is with Politics and Philosophy; a career might ensue in Government, in Accountancy (with an extra qualification) or in banking or the finance or planning department of a company..
Both Business and Economics are growing in popularity. While not quite mainstream they are moving above niche, especially at A-Level. There are many cross-over similarities; the main differences are the types of calculations and approach to graphs, and that Economics tends towards the Macro aggregate of a country whereas Business is more Micro at the individual company level.
The topics may be the first time a student has come across them. It will help if they have a particular prior interest or future related goal but not essential. A student needs to be reasonable at both Maths and Essay writing, but not exceptional at either.
There is a very clear path to University degree choice and often rewarding career path beyond.