A-levels: Humanities decline 'sign of EBacc failure'

Drop in A-level entries for humanities subjects in English Baccalaureate is a "terrible indictment", say heads

Geoff Barton

The decline in A-level entries for modern foreign languages and other humanities subjects is a "terrible indictment" of the English Baccalaureate, a headteachers' leader has said.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), also said the use of "comparable outcomes" to peg grades to those achieved in previous years raised questions about whether the "juggernaut" of exam reforms had been worth it.

Today's A-level results day showed a fall in entries in French, Spanish and German, but also in other humanities subjects.

Entries in geography plummeted 11.3 per cent, and those in history fell 2.7 per cent.

All three English A-levels were also down: entries in English language fell by 14.8 per cent, English literature by 4.6 per cent, and English language and literature by 12.5 per cent.

All these subjects are included in the government's EBacc measure, which was introduced to encourage pupils to study a set of traditional academic subjects at GCSE.

However, entries to the sciences and maths – which are also in the EBacc – were up.

Speaking to Tes, Mr Barton said the decline in humanities subjects was "a terrible indictment of the notion that EBacc is going to drive recruitment of young people into subjects that some people appear to deem more important than others. It’s had the reverse effect.

“As an English teacher it’s really depressing that fewer children are doing what was always a bedrock subject," he said.

"We are seeing this extraordinary narrowing of the curriculum and I think it does show that management through accountability measures has to be deemed a failure."

Mr Barton also said the use of comparable outcomes – a process that fixes the proportion of grades awarded based on the prior attainment of the cohort – raised questions about whether the government's exam reforms had been worth it. 

He said parents would approve of comparable outcomes because it meant their child would not be a "guinea pig".

But he added: "I think I would be saying, so what was all that juggernaut of reform about, why did we do all that?'

"Why in particular did we lose an AS-level that gave young people the opportunity to do a language, gave them the opportunity to do an arts subject? 

"Why did we sacrifice that? I think a lot of us in the teaching profession will say: Why did we not fight harder to keep something that gave an integral part of a sixth form education to a whole range of young people?"

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