The Department for Education this morning boasted of a rise in the numbers of entries to science courses, computing and history this morning. But concerns have been raised over a decline in the popularity of English among sixth formers after it emerged that there had been a 13% decline this summer in entries for all types of English A-level.
Authors and teachers’ leaders have called on ministers to urgently review the reformed English GCSEs because of concerns that the new qualifications are “sucking the joy” out of the subject and may be putting students off pursuing it at a higher level, reports Sally Weale, the Guardian’s education correspondent.
According to provisional data from the exams watchdog Ofqual, entries for English language A-level dropped from just under 18,000 in 2018 to less than 14,000 this year. Uptake was also down for English literature, from 41,000 to 37,500, while combined English language and literature dropped from 9,000 to 7,600.
The author and former teacher Joanne Harris, whose works included the best-selling novel Chocolat, said:
We should be very, very concerned at this drop in the study of English. This, combined with the loss of so many public libraries, could be the start of a catastrophic decline in the quality of our secondary students, graduates and future colleagues and employees.
This year’s A-level cohort, who will receive their results on Thursday, were the first to sit the new GCSE English qualifications introduced in 2017 as part of the former education secretary Michael Gove’s sweeping qualification changes, which were intended to make exams more rigorous and challenging.
Teachers have since expressed concerns that the new GCSE English language exam is focused too heavily on analysis of historical texts, while English literature involves memorising large amounts of content. The changes, they say, have hit the least able the hardest.
One assistant headteacher said:
GCSE English language is sucking the joy out of the study of how we communicate: the power and beauty in words. English literature favours those with excellent memories; it has reduced our most magnificent pieces of writing to a collection of quotations.