The Michael Gove legacy: Surge in number of teenagers studying ‘serious’ A-levels such as history, geography and maths

There is a positive response across much of the media to figures suggesting the introduction of the English Baccalaureate reforms on league tables is resulting in a significant upswing in numbers taking the so-called more ‘academic’ qualifying subjects at A level (or more specifically so far AS level). This is from the Mail

The return of the traditional A-level was heralded yesterday in figures showing a surge in teenagers choosing to study history, geography, languages and maths.

Advance data issued ahead of A-level results next month shows that rising numbers of new entrants to sixth-forms are opting for core academic disciplines.

The number of 17-year-olds taking geography has shot up 17 per cent while demand for history has leapt 14 per cent.

The resurgence of traditional subjects follows the introduction of new-style school league tables aimed at promoting disciplines seen as valuable by universities and employers…

…Michael Gove brought in a new ‘English Baccalaureate’ (EBacc) which rewards schools for entering pupils for six core GCSEs – English, maths, two sciences, a language and history or geography.

The impact of the initiative on A-level choices is being seen for the first time, according to figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications, representing exam boards.

The number of pupils taking AS-levels – which are halfway towards a full A-level – in history rose 14 per cent from 71,669 in 2013 to 81,843 this summer, while entrants for AS geography went up 17 per cent to 55,958 and Spanish 15 per cent to 14,089.

Maths saw an increase of 7.1 per cent in entries and physics 4.5 per cent, with smaller rises in French and German.

The JCQ said the trends may be partly down to changes to exams this year including the cancellation of the A-level resit opportunity in January, which is thought to have led to more candidates retaking in June instead.

But it added: ‘Despite this, the dramatic increases in some subjects compared with others point to a large number of candidates sitting the subjects for the first time.’

It went on: ‘Of particular interest in these data is the significant increase in AS entries for geography, history and Spanish (16.9 per cent; 14.2 per cent; 14.8 per cent).

‘French and German entries also increased with French, German and Spanish combined rising 6.1 per cent and all modern foreign languages rising 5.6 per cent.

‘In fact, AS entries for all EBacc subjects have increased.’

The JCQ said it believed the figures ‘point to the EBacc influencing student and centre [school and college] choices’.

Choices at AS-level usually have a strong bearing on the subjects taken to full A-level, with most pupils carrying on with their AS-level subjects.

Figures for entries to full A-level this summer – before the ‘EBacc effect’ has worked its way through – show modest increases in the numbers taking maths, further maths, chemistry, physics and geography.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said that while the trends were positive, the figures have been rising from a very low base.

In physics, A-level entrants had slumped to 27,368 in 2006 and although demand had now recovered to 36,862, it was still far below levels of 30 years ago.

‘In 1982, there were around 55,700 sitting physics. So although there has been a recovery, it has to be seen against that background,’ he said…

More at: The Michael Gove legacy: Surge in number of teenagers studying ‘serious’ A-levels such as history, geography and maths

See also: More pupils taking language AS-levels after GCSE reform


It certainly looks like the introduction of the EBacc is having an impact on AS/A level choices. On balance, do you think that is a good thing? Either way, please let us know and explain why in the comments below or via twitter and take part in our poll…

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Today's poll: Is the upswing in numbers taking 'traditional' A levels a good thing?
Categories: Secondary.


  1. spsmith45

    SchoolsImprove Ebacc effect on languages no doubt. Good news for MFL, but from a low base. Could be a blip.

  2. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Could this be because the choices have narrowed? Also it’s the results that matter, not just numbers on the course

  3. VictoriaJaquiss

    spsmith45 SchoolsImprove More kids studying langs, poss cos denied Music etc GCSE! Being in class & learning to speak Fr not same thing.

  4. waughstar

    SchoolsImprove No mentions of how English A Level figures have dropped due to the grade boundary shifts? Perhaps why other subjects chosen?

  5. MarkBurkitt

    SchoolsImprove If so, then that’s a legacy we should all be thanking Michael Gove for – pupils and employers, alike.

  6. diasporahighsch

    SchoolsImprove Fine provided there are enough jobs at the end of study and those on vocational route are not seen as 2nd class citizens!

Let us know what you think...