Pupils keep an eye on jobs

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The Independent Online

Education Correspondent

Students are choosing to take job-related A-levels rather than doing traditional academic subjects, examination boards said last night.

Vocational subjects, which include photography, media studies and law, have seen an 81 per cent increase in entries in the past five years, despite a drop in the number of 18-year-olds in the country.

The number of students taking A-level business studies has more than doubled from 12,400 in 1990 to 26,800 this year. The biggest rise was in sport studies, where the total entry of 7,600 was 34 per cent higher than last year.

George Turnbull, spokesman for the largest A-level board, the Associated Examining Board, said that young people were concentrating more than ever on finding a job after leaving school or university.

"Students are looking beyond university and looking to the jobs they can get. There are many physicists who can't get jobs or are stuck in research posts where they don't get paid particularly well.

"Many students are thinking what job they are going to do for the 21st century. They are voting with their feet and choosing vocational subjects," he said.

Physics and maths continue to decline in popularity, although there are signs that the decrease is levelling off. The entry for physics dropped from 36,100 to 34,700 this year (4.9 per cent of the total) while that for maths dropped from 64,900 to 62,100 (8.6 per cent of the total). In 1989, 46,700 pupils took physics and 84,700 took maths - 7 per cent and 12.7 per cent respectively of the total entry.

Arts and social science subjects are still becoming more popular, though. The number of pupils taking English has risen from 68,800 in 1989 to 86,000 this year.

The number of students staying on at school to take A-levels dropped by 1 per cent this year - but there was a bigger drop of 4.2 per cent in the number of 18-year-olds. In the past five years A-level candidates have risen by 6 per cent while the population of 18-year-olds has dropped by a fifth.

Despite the increase in staying-on rates, Britain still trails behind its main competitors in the examination stakes, with just over 40 per cent reaching A-level standard. In Japan 80 per cent of 18-year-olds achieve the same level while in Germany 70 per cent do so.

Last night there were calls for an end to government restrictions which will mean 6,000 fewer students in universities next year. The entry level will remain the same as last year only because of high drop-out rates and next year the number of 18-year-olds will start to rise, putting pressure on places.

David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: "The Government must now release the limit on higher education places. Action is needed now to avoid chaos and frustration in 1996 and 1997."