How religion and media studies have filled the gap

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The Independent Online

History is by no means the only troubled subject on the school curriculum - even though it accounts for only four per cent of the total number of papers sat by GCSE candidates last summer.

Geography, the subject through which Education Secretary Alan Johnson hopes to convince the next generation of youngsters to combat climate change, is in even more dire straits.

The number of 14 to 16-year-olds studying it for GCSE fell by 3,287 last year - reducing it to a 3.7 per cent share of the market. (By comparison, history showed a modest rise from a previous low.)

However, the largest fall-off is reserved for modern languages, with German take-up falling to lower than 100,000 for the first time since the introduction of GCSE. French was down by 35,951 (13.2 per cent) to 236,189.

All three subjects - history, geography and modern foreign languages - became voluntary from the age of 14 as a result of government diktat (although the languages decision is being reviewed).

Teachers' leaders have claimed - and the figures appear to bear them out - the downgrading of the subjects in the national curriculum sent a message to schools and pupils as to how much importance was given to them.

By contrast, subjects increasing in popularity include religious studies - up 8.2 per cent last year. This has followed the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, with students seeing it as the only subject on the curriculum that helps give them an understanding of moral philosophy and comparative religion.

Statistics, up 32.9 per cent, and media/film and TV studies were the other big winners.

At A level, psychology has made great strides forward in the wake of popular TV drama series such as Silent Witness and Cracker.

Individual science subjects and maths showed a modest rise last year. In the case of the sciences, this followed years of decline.