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Pupils refuse to branch out

The new A-level curriculum is failing to encourage students to take a mix of arts and science subjects. Julie Henry reports.

STUDENTS are refusing to bridge the traditional arts-science divide despite the introduction of the revamped A-levels aimed at broadening post-16 study.

Most pupils now take four AS-level subjects in the lower sixth as opposed to three, which was the norm. The Government had hoped the new qualification, allowing students to accrue university entrance points after a year's study, would encourage students to take a mix of courses. But schools are reporting that students are reluctant to branch out and study a subject outside their chosen area.

David Gentle, head of Cockshut Technology College, Birmingham, said: "We are not seeing arts students take up maths or science. In fact the uptake of those subjects is no higher than it was when students were doing the two-year A-level.

"Science students are much more likely to take subjects like IT as their fourth subject, rather than go for English or humanities."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said the plan to give sixth-formers more rounded base would fail unless universities sent a strong signal that it was desirable.

"Students are going to take subjects in which they can get the best grades. It is therefore not surprising that the uptake of maths, for instance, looks unaffected by the AS-level.

"Students need to know that taking a contrasting subject will bring them extra credit."

However, early indications suggest that foreign languages is one area which has benefited from the new A-level curriculum.

George Turnbull, spokesman for the AQA exam board , said if schools' predictions were borne out, the number of sixth-formers sitting language exams this year would double to more than 20,000.

Meanwhile, a SHA survey published this week revealed the new A-levels had pushed up class sizes in nearly 80 per cent of state schools. The effect was far less pronounced in independent schools.

Some schools were teaching up to 40 students in single sixth-form classes - compared with the normal maximum of 23. And the research predicted that class sizes in the second year of sixth form would increase from the autumn in 41 per cent of state schools.

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