Headteachers’ leaders have warned that funding cuts are forcing schools to drop some AS levels in a trend that they fear could lead to A-level language entries falling even further than the decline revealed today.
Speaking after the publication of A-level results this morning, Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was concerned that the long-term trend of pupils taking four AS levels and three A levels was in decline.
The introduction of new “decoupled” AS-levels this summer, which will no longer count towards final A-level grades, was also behind the fall, he said.
“As a result of the decoupling and also as a result of low funding levels, we’re seeing institutions moving away from the established pattern of having four AS levels and three A levels,” Mr Trobe said.
“They are putting youngsters on three A-level linear exams from the start because they can’t afford [for pupils to be doing] more subjects.
“They’re reaching a stage where they can no longer afford to subsidise smaller-entry subjects such as modern foreign languages, design and technology and music. It’s reducing curriculum choice.”
Languages in decline
Mr Trobe said the shift was “happening already” and could increase in future. This year entries for AS-level French fell by 10.1 per cent. Entries for AS-level German and Spanish fell by 10.7 per cent and 4.8 per cent respectively.
Today’s A-level results figures also show there has been a 6.4 per cent fall in entries for A-level French this year, compared with 2015. Entries for A-level German have fallen by 4.2 per cent and entries for Spanish have fallen by 2.7 per cent, despite rising last year.
The decreases outstrip a 1.7 per cent overall drop in A-level entries, linked to a dip in the number of 18-year-olds in the population this year.
But the proportion of A* grades in languages has risen, in the wake of measures announced by the exams regulator Ofqual in 2014 to tackle concerns that it was harder to score an A* in French, German and Spanish than in other A levels.
This shift will be welcomed by languages teachers, who have been warning for several years that students have been deterred from taking languages at A level because they believe it is harder to score a top grade. But it may also be a sign that only the most able pupils are deciding to stick with languages after GCSE.
This year the proportion of A*s rose from 8.1 per cent to 8.8 per cent in French, from 8.3 per cent to 9.6 per cent in German and from 8.1 per cent to 8.4 per cent in Spanish.
Andrew Hall, chief executive of the AQA exam board, said this morning that declining language entries were a long-term trend but that he hoped this year’s rise in A* grades could encourage more pupils to take the subjects in future. "That increase in A*s, we hope, is seen as encouraging,” he said.