Subject Choices: Candidates flock to study 'dumbed-down' maths

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The Independent Online

Maths is growing in popularity among today's sixth-formers, yesterday's A-level results show.

Figures reveal further mathematics has the biggest rise in the number of candidates sitting the exam this summer of any subject - 22.5 per cent - closely followed by ordinary mathematics. It is the third most popular of all subjects behind English and general studies.

Results also showed a big increase in the percentage of maths candidates achieving A- grade passes - 43 per cent compared with 39.9 per cent. By itself, it was responsible for 0.2 percentage points of the 1.3-point rise in A-grade passes.

The subject's new-found popularity has been put down to the review of maths carried out by Professor Adrian Smith, of Queen Mary, University of London. However, it has split the teaching profession with some maths teachers claiming the reforms have "dumbed down" the curriculum, according to a review by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority - the Government's exams watchdog.

This was hotly denied yesterday by Dr Ellie Johnson Searle, chief executive of the Joint Council for Qualifications - the umbrella body representing the exam boards.

She described the results as "an incredibly impressive increase", adding: "These figures for 2006 show a great recovery for maths from 2001-02 and reflect all the work that's gone into improving the subject."

She said that schools were faced with students dropping out of maths courses because the new curriculum had been "unmanageable".

The figures also showed a major increase in the number of students opting for media/film and TV studies. It had the second biggest increase, which put it into the top 10 of most popular subjects for the first time with 30,964 candidates - almost twice as many as sat the French exam.

Yesterday's results also showed an increase in the number of candidates taking chemistry (up 3.1 per cent) and biology (1.7 per cent) - although physics was down 2.7 per cent

Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, said: "Physics A-level remains on the critical list.'' Entries to modern languages were stable - halting a massive slide in the past three years following the Government's decision to make the subject voluntary in schools from the age of 14. German, however, has shownan increase of 5.1 per cent in the number of candidates.

The biggest decrease in candidates came in computing - down 13.9 per cent. Home economics was down 8.3 per cent and non-mainstream sciences, such as environmental science, fell by 4.6 per cent.

Top 10 courses

1 (1) English

2 (2) General Studies

3 (4) Maths

4 (3) Biology

5 (5) Psychology

6 (6) History

7 (7) Art & Design

8 (8) Chemistry

9 (9) Geography

10 (11) Media Studies