A-level maths overtakes English as most popular subject

Entries to traditional subjects at A-level have risen as students opt for qualifications favoured by the country's top universities.

The number of students sitting biology, chemistry and physics is up by 2%, while maths is up by 0.9% and further maths is up by 1.5%. All subjects are favoured by admissions tutors at the Russell Group of top research universities.

Maths overtook English for the first time in over a decade to become the most popular subject, while the number of students taking English fell 4.6% – a drop blamed on the GCSE debacle that left thousands of teenagers with lower grades than expected in 2012. Entries to chemistry have also risen significantly, making it the fifth most popular subject.

"Students are looking hard and saying: 'What subjects are going to get me into university?'," said Andrew Hall, chief executive of the AQA exam board.

Universities are becoming more transparent, said Mark Dawe, chief executive of the OCR exam board. "The requirement for students to sit particular subjects has always been there; it just hasn't always been obvious to students. In the past students were picking their A-levels thinking 'we'll do this and this' – then they weren't getting in because they didn't have English or maths."

A switch to high-stakes, end-of-year exams – a system thought to disadvantage girls – has not led to a dip in their performance, according to Hall, who said: "The stereotype hasn't played through." But exam chiefs admitted they still had not tackled the gender gaps in the number of students sitting arts and science subjects.

"It's a complex issue and we still haven't cracked it," said Lesley Davies, director of quality and standards at the Pearson exam board. "There's no one answer, but we do have to look at the careers advice that is being given to young people and we need to look at role models in the different industries."

Some 13.5% of girls took English last year, compared with 6.3% of boys. Maths was sat by 14.3% of boys and 7.6% of girls – meaning girls accounted for only 38.7% of entries. In physics, girls accounted for only one in five entries.

Entries to modern foreign language A-levels remained unchanged on last year, though a "wave of language students" is likely to enter next summer after the introduction of the Ebacc – a performance measure for judging schools which encourages them to offer languages.

Dawe said: "We've seen a big increase in AS entries to languages, especially in Spanish, and next year we would expect the A-levels to be higher. It proves that when government makes a policy or change in priorities, this will follow through."

General studies is being scrapped by increasing numbers of schools. This may be because more teachers are teaching the extended project, an alternative, skills-based qualification, he said.

"We think there's a shift over to the extended project – it might be that schools and colleges are looking at what to offer often as the fourth project and they see the extended project as a better qualification that they believe universities prefer."

(Source: TheGuardian)


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