A levels: 'Make humanities and languages compulsory'

Students should study a humanities subject, a foreign language and maths until the end of their schooling, says report

Tes Reporter

A levels: Call for all students to study humanities and a foreign language

A levels should be reformed so students are made to study a humanities subject, mathematics and a foreign language until the end of schooling to tackle a decline in humanities enrolments at universities, a new report suggests.

Requiring maths to be studied would improve the numerical abilities of humanities graduates and boost their employment prospects, according to a paper published today by the Higher Education Policy Institute.


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Dr Gabriel Roberts, an English teacher at a London secondary school and the author of the new report, argues that the number of applicants for humanities degrees could rise if studying a humanities subject at A level was compulsory.

He adds: “Requiring pupils to continue a foreign language until the end of school might stem the decline in applicants for modern languages courses at university and lessen the social exclusivity of classics and modern languages courses at leading universities.

Call to reform A levels to give humanities a boost

“It would also address the long-term shortage of linguistic skills identified by employers, have wider benefits for pupils’ educational attainment and help compensate for the loss of international links likely to result from Brexit.”

On his proposal to require A-level students to study maths alongside a humanities subject until the end of compulsory schooling, Dr Roberts said it “would improve the numerical abilities of humanities graduates, which might have positive effects on their careers.”

The report highlights that the modern humanities at UK universities face real challenges relating to enrolment, graduate employment and funding.

Between 1961-62 and 2019-20, the proportion of UK students studying humanities subjects fell from around 28 per cent to approximately 8 per cent of all students, according to the paper.

It adds: “The employment prospects of humanities graduates are weaker than those of graduates in some other areas, but the picture is mixed.”

Dr Roberts says: “There’s a strong case for broadening post-16 education in the UK. A nlevels are strikingly narrow by international standards, and the success of the International Baccalaureate and the Extended Project Qualification shows pupils can handle greater breadth than A levels offer.

“The growing popularity of interdisciplinary degrees should also tell us something about the kind of education that many young people want. There is a strong case for change.”

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), said: “It is often said there is a ‘crisis in the humanities’ and there are certainly some big challenges for the humanities in relation to student numbers, funding and curricula. We must discuss, debate and deal with them.

“Nonetheless, the ‘crisis’ narrative is too simplistic and too pessimistic.

"The true picture is more nuanced, more interesting and more positive, whether we look at teaching, course design or research.

“Moreover, the lively current debates on issues like statues and decolonising the curriculum prove that most people know we can only fully understand our society when the humanities thrive.”

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