Students abandon academic A-levels

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THE TRADITIONAL bastions of the pure academic A-level are losing out to the galloping popularity of new subjects which nod towards the world of work, according to examination statistics published yesterday.

Entries to English, French and history all suffered sharp falls as the rise of more work-related disciplines like business studies, computing and media studies continued unabated.

Science entries were also down, but by no more than the marginal 1.1 per cent overall decline in entries, reflecting demographic trends which have produced a fall in the number of 18-year-olds in sixth-forms and colleges this year.

Ten per cent fewer students took French, while English was down four per cent and history fell five per cent.

Entries to computing, by contrast, shot up 17 per cent to 17,145. Media, film and TV studies was up five per cent while the rise of business studies continued with a 2.5 per cent increase in applications.

The trend towards vocation-related subjects mirrors the increasing popularity of business-related degrees as students set their sights firmly on the jobs market.

Student leaders said young people were increasingly looking to the job market when they chose their A-levels and degree courses. But graduate recruiters warned that students who specialised in vocational subjects too early risked damaging their options.

Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, said: "If you do a narrow vocational area of study then you close down your options. Unless you are absolutely sure you are not going to change your mind there are some dangers implicit in that."

He said the imposition of university tuition fees could be one factor encouraging the growth of vocational subjects. But he insisted that companies were more interested in a good academic record, work experience and extra- curricular activities were more important than a student's choice of subject.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Liverpool University, said the rise of vocational-style A- levels had not been matched with a rise in the more truly work-related General National Vocational Qualifications. He said: "It is a testament to the status of A-levels that most of the growth in subjects such as computing and business studies is in A-level and not in GNVQs."

He said the much publicised decline in science subjects stabilised. He said: "The decline in science has been determined to a large extent by demography.

"Making science compulsory up to the age of 16 seems to have had no effect on the take-up of A-level."

Traditional subjects still dominate the popularity table, despite this year's changes. English was the most popular subject, with more than 90,000 entrants. General studies came second, followed by maths, biology and geography. Business studies came in ninth.

Traditional subjects attracted the highest number of A and B grades. Dr Ron McClone, convenor of the Joint Council for General Qualifications said that science grades had improved. "I think students are deciding at an early stage whether they really want to be scientists so that there is a move towards better quality candidates studying these subjects."

t Students who have already applied for their loans for next term will get them on time, senior department for education sources said yesterday.

By yesterday all but two of the 172 local authorities had completed their assessments of students' loan entitlement.