Tougher GCSES blamed for putting students off English at A-level
ENGLISH A-level is expected to see its biggest drop in students in 20 years as teachers call for an inquiry into whether GCSE reforms are killing the subject.
The number of students taking English has fallen by 13 per cent since last year, provisional data published by Ofqual, the exams watchdog, show.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, described it as “alarming” and called for “urgent action” from ministers. English remains one of the most popular A-level subjects, but the drop from 67,865 to 58,870 is the most drastic annual dip since 2000, when the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) records began. This year’s A-level students will find out their results tomorrow.
Mr Barton said the new, more rigorous English GCSES, introduced three years ago, were to blame for putting students off English.
“It is right that we should have the highest aspirations for students, but this should not equate to turning exams into a joyless slog,” he said.
“We are concerned that the current GCSE specifications are failing to encourage a love of English in young people and this year’s entries at A-level appear to confirm our fears.”
In the reformed English Language and English Literature GCSES, coursework has been scrapped and content “toughened up” in an effort to raise standards.
Experts have told The Daily Telegraph that students favour subjects which they think will lead them on to a well-paid job.
Barnaby Lenon, chairman
of the Independent Schools Council, said higher university tuition fees had led to students wanting to get a “good return on their investment”, and that there had been a “shift” towards subjects which have more vocational use.
But Mr Lenon, a former headmaster at the £41,775-a-year Harrow School, added: “Many of the highest-paid people in the country studied English Alevel and went to university to read a subject without much practical application, then found themselves in great demand in the market place.”
Ministers have announced a string of measures to boost the number of students taking science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects, including a cash incentive of up to £2,400 for every extra student that takes Maths in the sixth form.
JCQ data shows that the number of students taking Physics and Chemistry A-levels in 2018 were both up 3.4 per cent on 2017, with Biology up 3.1 per cent and Maths up 2.5 per cent. Professor Robert Eaglestone, a member of the English Association which promotes the study of literature, said: “Previous ministers have been very down on humanities.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: “It is positive to see an increase in the uptake of Stem subjects at A-level, reflecting the rise in demand for people with skills in these areas. English remains one of the most popular subjects. We’re confident the reformed GCSES in English are better preparing pupils for study at A-level.” The number of schoolteachers without “qualified teacher status” , which requires possession of at least an undergraduate degree, is on the rise, an Oxford University study has found.
Analysis of teachers at 18,000 English state schools, published in the British Journal of Sociology Education, found that the percentage with degrees fell from 81 per cent to 66 per cent in primary schools and from 85 per cent to 78 per cent in secondary schools between 2011 and 2017.