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A bleak future for history

Warwick Mansell on the alarming plunge in popularity of geography and history, which some blame on the focus on 'core' subjects

HUMANITIES are being marginalised in secondary schools, new official figures suggest. A long-delayed Department for Education and Skills survey reveals dramatic falls in the take-up of history and geography at GCSE.

The proportion of pupils studying geography in year 10 fell from 47 per cent in 1996, the last time the survey was done, to 31 per cent this academic year. In Year 11, it fell from 51 to 34 per cent. The proportion studying history fell from 37 to 34 per cent in Year 10 and from 40 to 33 per cent in Year 11.

David Lambert, chief executive of the Geographical Association, said the results reflected the emphasis that schools were putting on core subjects as a result of the Government's key stage 3 strategy and national curriculum tests.

There are also concerns that poor teaching puts pupils off. Mr Lambert acknowledged that geography lessons at key stage 3 were not as well-taught as other subjects, partly because of the number of non-specialist teachers.

Students were less likely to be excited by the subject in their early secondary years, making them more likely to drop it for GCSE.

The statistics come only a week after The TES revealed that geography in primary schools can be taught by teachers who have studied the subject for only four hours in a four-year course.

A survey of 34 university teacher training courses found that more than one in four had reduced the number of staff for primary geography after new regulations said primary trainees no longer needed to take a specialist subject.

The curriculum survey also showed a growth in the number of students taking religious education following the introduction of a short-course GCSE, and slight falls in the number of schools offering French and German.

However, its results are based on a sample of only 180 of England's 3,500 secondary schools.

The time it has taken the Government to publish the latest survey has infuriated headteachers' leaders and the Liberal Democrats, who have been pressing ministers on the issue for two years. The survey used to come out every four years, and was seen as a vital tool for planning teacher recruitment targets.

Ministers have put back to September the publication of the number and qualifications of teachers in each subject, which was to be published last week. They say that the sample number was too small.

Professor John Howson, a teacher recruitment expert and Liberal Democrat adviser, said that the small sample figure of 180 schools was "disappointing" and would make it difficult for ministers to plan teacher numbers.

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