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.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: MIS Officer - Further Education Sector

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Operating throughout London and...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K - £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been we...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there