Pupils rediscover the joys of maths and languages

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The Independent Online

Traditional subjects are making a comeback at A-level, with a rise in the number of teenagers opting to study maths, science and modern languages.

By contrast, some of the subjects dismissed by traditionalists as easier – such as communication studies, general studies and the performing arts – are showing a decline.

Maths and further maths are the biggest success stories from this year's exams, with respective increases of 7.4 per cent (4,500 candidates) and 15.8 per cent (1,219) in take-up. Boys are twice as likely to choose the subject as girls.

Mike Cresswell, director general of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, the country's biggest exams board, said: "There are more candidates for maths than at any time in the past. That has to be good news for all of us. It is obviously important that we have people with high maths skills. A modern society needs that."

The rise in take-up of foreign languages – with French going up 2.8 per cent to its highest level for at least six years, and Spanish rising by 1.5 per cent – reverses a period of decline after the Government was accused by teachers' leaders of sending out a signal about the importance of a foreign language by scrapping compulsory lessons in the subject for pupils after the age of 14.

Minority languages – such as Chinese, Arabic, Russian and Polish – are also on the increase in schools. The number of candidates taking Chinese A-level, for instance, went up by more than 300 to 2,700.

The only downside is the continuing decline of German – which fell by 0.9 per cent this year.

In the sciences, chemistry went up by 3.5 per cent (1,395), biology by 2.7 per cent (1,447) and physics by 2.3 per cent (630). The upshot is that biology and chemistry have returned to the level of take-up a decade ago, while physics has not quite reversed the major fall it suffered in 2004 but is on the way up again.

One of the biggest drops is in computing – down 9.4 per cent to 5,156 – with information and communication technology falling by 8 per cent to 12,499. The performing and expressive arts were down 7.3 per cent to 3,682, communications studies by 3.7 per cent to 2,083, and general studies by 2.2 per cent to 55,604.

One of the reasons for the change is said by headteachers' leaders to be linked to increased competition for university places. For instance, two years ago, it emerged that Cambridge had a list of about 30 "easier" subjects which, if taken exclusively, would disbar a candidate from acceptance at the university.

Richard Lambert, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said: "We are pleased to see increases in the numbers taking maths and science but we need to see a continued rise if Britain is to compete successfully in the global economy.

"For example, the numbers taking physics are still considerably smaller than they were 10 years ago – even though more people take A-levels now."

Rises and falls

+15.8% Rise in the number of pupils taking further maths at A-level.

+2.8% Rise in the number of pupils taking French at A-level.

-9.4% Fall in the number of pupils taking A-levels in computing.