Slump in languages as headteachers say pupils are opting for 'easy' A-levels

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The Independent Online

A slump in the number of pupils opting to study foreign languages is revealed today as headteachers warn that teenagers are choosing "easier" A-level subjects such as psychology and media studies.

A-level results received by 250,000 entrants this morning show a record pass rate for the 21st year in succession.

But John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said the figures showed "the hidden scandal of A-levels".

He said that pupils were opting for subjects such as psychology, which were "statistically proven" to be easier than traditional subjects such as maths, sciences and languages. The Government's inquiry into exam reform had to ensure a common standard in all subjects, he added.

Mr Dunford's comments came as the results showed that the pass rate had risen by 1.1 per cent to 95.4 per cent.

The percentage of A-grade passes increased from 20.7 per cent to 21.6 per cent. Girls also increased their lead over boys by 0.3 per cent to 2.9 per cent.

But the most worrying factor was the decline in the number of candidates opting to take mainstream European languages at AS-level. Those taking German declined by 8.5 per cent this year and French by 3.2 per cent. At A-level, the figures were down 0.9 per cent and 0.5 per cent respectively.

Headteachers put the AS-level drop down to schools "jumping the gun" over the Government's decision to make languages voluntary for 14 to 16-year-olds from September.

Mr Dunford said: "The languages situation will get worse. We had hoped with the introduction of AS-levels and more breadth in the sixth-form curriculum that more people would have been persuaded to take the subject for a further year."

Linda Parker, director of the Association for Language Learning, added: "I do agree there is a perception - not just among students but also among senior school managers and teachers - that languages are difficult. Senior managers particularly have an eye on league tables and perhaps do not encourage students to continue with languages."

In science at A-level, the drop in physics candidates was 3 per cent this year, chemistry 1.5 per cent and biology 0.8 per cent. Mr Dunford's comments were dismissed last night by David Miliband, the minister for School Standards. He said: "Every A-level subject meets rigorous standards and several international panels have shown this in the past. Today we should be celebrating. Let's give students a break from this annual carping."

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