Shock slump in English A-level candidates blamed on GCSE marking crisis

Drop results from grade boundary mix-up in 2012

Education Editor

The number of pupils taking English at A-level has slumped this summer, with experts pinning the blame on the crisis over marking GCSE exams in the subject two years ago.

Figures published by the exam boards show a surprise fall of almost 4,000 in the number of entrants as head teachers said many may not have got the necessary grades to pursue the subject to A-level. In 2012, grade boundaries for GCSE English were changed at the last minute, leading schools to claim thousands of pupils had missed out on all-important C-grade passes, after exams regulator Ofqual said the initial pass mark was too easy.

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added that a number of pupils expecting A* or A grade passes also did not get them, which then influenced their choice of study in the sixth-form.

“It could well be that they didn’t get the overall grades they wanted for sixth-form, or there was a specification [by a college] about having a C in English which meant they couldn’t go on,” he added.

“It also could be that they were disappointed with their results and decided to do something different.”

Overall, today’s figures showed a rise in most science subjects: physics up 2.1 per cent to 36,096 and chemistry up 1.7 per cent to 53,705; while maths and further maths are up 0.4 per cent to 89,467 and 2.6 per cent to 14,584 respectively.

English and modern languages showed the biggest slump with the number of English entrants falling 4.4 per cent to 86,036, forcing it off its perch as the most popular A-level subject for teenagers, a title now claimed by maths. In languages, the numbers fell by 4.2 per cent to 22,320 with French suffering the biggest drop with 7.5 per cent fewer candidates.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said:  “I think it shows a continuing and worrying decline in languages.

“We’re increasingly relying on people in other countries to speak English - which happily many of them do - but it means we’re not taking the opportunity to enjoy their cultures by speaking to them in their own language.”

He described the rise in science take-up as welcome but added: “It needs to be seen in the context of the take-up in the early 1980s when well over 50,000 took physics for instance.”

The figures showed, though, that a rise in take-up of most academic subjects is on the cards next year as the first cohort to have studied for GCSEs since the introduction of the Government’s English Baccalaureate move on to A-levels. These pupils took AS-levels - worth half an A-level, and sat at the end of the first year of the sixth-form - this year, with the result that entries for geography rose by 16.9 per cent to 55,958, history by 14.2 per cent to 81,843, languages by 6.1 per cent to 39,204, with Spanish recording the biggest increase of 14.8 per cent, English by 9.2 per cent to 132,535 and further maths by 9.3 per cent to 24,402.

Under former Education Secretary Michael Gove’s EBacc, schools are ranked in exam league tables on the percentage of pupils obtaining a top grade A* to C-grade pass at GCSE in maths, the sciences, a language, English and history or geography.

Overall, entrants to the so-called “facilitating subjects”, those sought for entry to the most selective universities, rising by 6.9 per cent to 767,173.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “Already the EBacc has reversed the long-term decline in the proportion of pupils studying GCSEs in the subjects most valued by employers and universities and now we are seeing that follow through into AS levels. We expect to see the trend continue into A-level entries next summer.”

Sport
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Travel
travelWhy Japan's love hotels are thriving through an economic downturn
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Physics Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Physics Teacher required for ...

year 4/5/6

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you looking for a full...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week