Sixth-formers reject plan for broad mix of subjects

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The Independent Online

Sixth-formers are flocking to take up fashionable, nontraditional subjects such as film and media studies because of government A-level reforms, according to research published today.

Sixth-formers are flocking to take up fashionable, nontraditional subjects such as film and media studies because of government A-level reforms, according to research published today.

Most are ignoring ministers' hopes that the reforms, which are being introduced this autumn, would encourage them to study contrasting subjects with arts students taking up science and vice versa. The researchers at London University's institute of education say students are determined "not to become a radical battering ram for the Government".

New arrangements encouraging sixth-formers to take four subjects, not three, are designed to bring A-levels closer to continental baccalaureate-style exams in which arts and sciences are mixed.

But the research funded by the Nuffield foundation shows that most students are not choosing a contrasting subject for their fourth subject. Instead, they are opting for non-traditional courses. A study in Hampshire found that the top 10 choices included media studies, psychology, film studies, law and art and design.

Ken Spours and Ann Hodgson at the institute interviewed 250 sixth-formers and found that only the high-flying students who are aiming for Oxbridge and other leading universities and those wanting to study highly competitive subjects are picking contrasting subjects. More typical, however, was the student who asked the researchers: "What's the use of one science subject in the sixth form?" and another who said she was doing what she was best at and enjoyed.

"They are choosing," say the researchers, "by considering personal interests, what they understand employers and higher education providers think might complement their main subjects, the desire to do something at which they will be successful and the challenge of taking something new.

"Some students, anxious about the increased workload, have taken a subject which they think may not be too taxing."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "We had hoped that people doing science would take up a modern language and people doing languages would do maths and that this would help the shortage of people in these areas. But people are pitching into the middle and only going part way across the arts-science divide.

"People are taking the attitude that university entrance is still going to be based on three A-levels and doing something a bit different for their fourth subject."

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