Shock slump in English A-level candidates blamed on GCSE marking crisis

The Independent is reporting that the number of pupils taking English at A-level has slumped this summer, with experts pinning the blame on the crisis over marking GCSE exams in the subject two years ago…

Figures published by the exam boards show a surprise fall of almost 4,000 in the number of entrants as head teachers said many may not have got the necessary grades to pursue the subject to A-level. In 2012, grade boundaries for GCSE English were changed at the last minute, leading schools to claim thousands of pupils had missed out on all-important C-grade passes, after exams regulator Ofqual said the initial pass mark was too easy.

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added that a number of pupils expecting A* or A grade passes also did not get them, which then influenced their choice of study in the sixth-form.

“It could well be that they didn’t get the overall grades they wanted for sixth-form, or there was a specification [by a college] about having a C in English which meant they couldn’t go on,” he added.

“It also could be that they were disappointed with their results and decided to do something different.”

Overall, today’s figures showed a rise in most science subjects: physics up 2.1 per cent to 36,096 and chemistry up 1.7 per cent to 53,705; while maths and further maths are up 0.4 per cent to 89,467 and 2.6 per cent to 14,584 respectively.

English and modern languages showed the biggest slump with the number of English entrants falling 4.4 per cent to 86,036, forcing it off its perch as the most popular A-level subject for teenagers, a title now claimed by maths. In languages, the numbers fell by 4.2 per cent to 22,320 with French suffering the biggest drop with 7.5 per cent fewer candidates.

The figures showed, though, that a rise in take-up of most academic subjects is on the cards next year as the first cohort to have studied for GCSEs since the introduction of the Government’s English Baccalaureate move on to A-levels. These pupils took AS-levels – worth half an A-level, and sat at the end of the first year of the sixth-form – this year, with the result that entries for geography rose by 16.9 per cent to 55,958, history by 14.2 per cent to 81,843, languages by 6.1 per cent to 39,204, with Spanish recording the biggest increase of 14.8 per cent, English by 9.2 per cent to 132,535 and further maths by 9.3 per cent to 24,402…

More at: Shock slump in English A-level candidates blamed on GCSE marking crisis


Are you aware of students not taking A level English because of the issues surrounding the GCSE marking two years ago? Please give us your insights into the impact that had. It does seem however that AS level entries are up for English, along with other facilitating subjects, which suggests it may have been a one-off issue. What do you think? Please let us in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. 1810consultancy

    SchoolsImprove the interesting thing about this &the farcical way English has been treated over the last two years, Is that it’s a ‘shock’?

  2. Janet2

    Typical blather from the Mail (Private Eye thinks Gove’s in line to become the Mail’s editor – shome coincidence, shurely?).  AS entries rise (but isn’t AS going to be scrapped?)  And, yes, the high percentage increase is from a low base (the article does admit this later on).  But the entries for full A levels show only a “modest” increase.

    And entries for A level English drop.

    Did the Mail mention that academies are less likely to offer EBacc subjects?  Thought not.

    PS Can I have a tenner every time there’s an article headed “the Gove Legacy”?  Should be quids in by the next election.

  3. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove I fear that this story will be regurgitated next year only with a different subject with all the govt/Ofqual tinkering

  4. JoNoGo

    SchoolsImprove What will that mean for final a2 grades? Only more able candidates took A2 English so final grades lower? Gloom.

  5. MsHMFL

    tim_jumpclarke national shortage of specialist MFL teachers due to low A level uptake and MFL degree courses closing.

  6. tim_jumpclarke

    So that’s 2 impacts so far…
    I work in primary – will be very interested to see how current pupils come out by Y11

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