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A-levels suffer in jobs scramble

Languages, history and geography are in decline as teenagers opt for subjects with career paths. Sarah Cassidy reports

SIXTH-FORMERS who ditch traditional A-levels in favour of vocational courses may be missing out on vital work-related skills, subject associations have warned.

Teenagers are turning their backs on A-level languages, humanities and science in favour of newer vocational subjects, the latest exam board figures show.

The number of pupils sitting A-level French has dropped by more than a quarter since 1994. Only 21,000 took the subject this summer, compared with 29,000 five years ago and 23,600 last year. German entries dropped to 9,500, down from 10,200.

Geography also suffered and history continued its decline of the past few years with the number of candidates falling 5 per cent to 38,482 this year.

Roger Carter, the president of the Geographical Association, believes that students' faith in vocational courses may be misplaced.

He said: "There is a lot of financial pressure on today's students so it's not that surprising that candidates want qualifications which are linked to a particular job.

"However, there is an element of dishonesty about the message students are getting as there are far fewer jobs in some of these so-called vocational areas, like the media, than there are courses to study it. Geography students gain which give them access to whole range of jobs."

Sean Lang, head of history at Hills Road sixth-form college, Cambridge, said students often underestimate the appeal of conventional subjects for employers.

He said: "History has always been very popular with employers because they want candidates who can analyse information quickly and succinctly. Unfortunately students think history might be hard work."

The exam boards are particularly concerned at the decline in science entries.

Dr Ron McLone, convenor of the Joint Council for General Qualifications, said:

"There is something going wrong. People are deciding at an early stage whether they want to be scientists or not. If they are not sure of getting a top grade they are dropping science."

Biology entries dropped by 4 per cent, chemistry by 3. Only physics decreased in line with the falling numbers of 17-year-olds at 1.1 per cent.

However, Jenny Wales, chair of the Economics and Business Education Association, welcomed the shift towards vocational qualifications as proof that the educational market place worked.

She said: "People are taking qualifications in business studies and computing because they believe it will make them better equipped to work in these worlds.

"Although it is nice to have English graduates, I am not sure that having read George Eliot is going to help our economy to grow."

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