Traditional science subjects make comeback

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The Independent Online

Traditional science subjects are making a comeback in the curriculum, today's GCSE results revealed.

Biology, chemistry and physics all showed a major increase in take-up, according to the exam boards – physics increasing by 21 percentage points to 91,179, chemistry up 20.3 percentage points to 92,246 and biology up 18 per cent to 100,905.

The figures follow a plea from ministers to concentrate on the separate sciences – considered more demanding than the general science GCSE.

Professor John Holman, director of the National Science Learning Centre, said: “I welcome the strong increase in numbers taking triple science GCSEs (biology, chemistry and physics).”

He said the figure was expected to grow further next year.

“We need to continue this upward trend so that we reach the position where triple science is on offer to all students who want to take it,” he added.

Dr Jim Sinclair, director of the Joint Council of Qualifications (the body responsible for releasing the results), added: “It is reassuring to see increased entry to the separate sciences.”

The gloss over the figures was slightly tarnished as it emerged that independent schools still had a stranglehold over offering the three separate sciences.

In all three subjects, just under 20 per cent of all the entries were from independent schools compared with just 8.72 per cent overall. The only subject with a much larger percentage input from the independent sector was classical studies (Latin and Greek) where the independent sector accounted for 61.84 per cent of all entries.

This year also saw a modest decline in the percentage of youngsters getting A* to C grade passes in the triple sciences. In chemistry, it was down by 0.1 percentage points and physics by 0.4 percentage points. Biology bucked the trend by showing a 0.8 percentage point increase.

One of reasons is said to be as a result of tougher questions following a report by Ofqual, the exam standards watchdog, criticising the standards of the new syllabus. Experts said the mathematical content of questions needed to be increased.The report only came in March when many pupils had completed most of the modules for the exam - so the effect could be more marked next year.

Meanwhile, the inexorable decline of modern foreign languages increased.

French uptake was down this year by 13,252 (6.6 percentage points) to 188,688. Since the turn of the century the numbers taking the subject have almost halved.

German, too, is in terminable decline with 3,226 fewer entries in 2009 – bringing it down to 73, 469 (again nearly half the numbers taking it at the turn of the century). Spanish, however, has remained stable with only 22 fewer candidates this year ((67,070).

The continuing drop prompted John Bangs, assistant secretary of the National Union of Teachers, to call on the Government to review its policy of making the subject voluntary for 14 to 16-year-olds.

He said the decision was “totally mistaken” by the Government and that the Conservatives had been “totally mistaken” to support it. The decision was taken seven years ago.

“It is absolutely ridiculous it is optional,” he added.

Dr Anne Davidson Lund, director of policy research at CILT – the national centre for languages, said: “We are very disappointed to see a continued decline in the take-up of GCSE languages.”

Another subject on the decline is Information and Communication Technology which went down by 12,080 (14.1 per cent).

Mr Bangs said: “Many students don’t see the importance of taking an exam in the subject because they’re already so computer literature.”

Dr Dunford added: “After all, they didn’t introduce an exam in blackboard studies when we used the blackboard.

“Computer technology is seen as a tool for learning rather than a subject in its own right.”

Meanwhile, the overall number of GCSEs taken by youngsters declined by 3.5 per cent to just over five million –a figure in line with the decline in the age cohort.

Dr Cresswell said this showed that rival exams –such as the International GCSE favoured by many independent schools in maths and English because it is built along the lines of traditional O-levels – was not having any impact on the GCSE.

Figures also showed a growing number of youngsters –particularly in maths – were taking the subject a year early as part of attempts to fast-track the brightest pupils on to AS-levels early.

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