Tougher GCSES blamed for putting stu­dents off English at A-level

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Camilla Turner ed­u­ca­tion ed­i­tor

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.

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