GCSE entries fall across all non-EBacc subjects

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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GCSE entries have fallen dramatically across non-EBacc subjects, sparking renewed concerns about a significant narrowing of the curriculum in England.

Statistics published by exams watchdog Ofqual reveal how many students have been entered for GCSEs this summer broken down by subject.
The figures show notable increases in some EBacc subjects and across the board decreases in non-EBacc subjects.

For example, art and design GCSEs fell from 172,550 entries in 2016 to 165,100 this year. Drama is also down from 68,250 to 61,950 and music has fallen from 41,850 to 38,750.

Religious education is also down – from 328,000 to 297,800 – while design technology is down from 175,150 to 156,300. Also hit are subjects such as PE, citizenship and media.

Meanwhile, entries in EBacc subjects are up, most notably in English language (from 459,750 to 701,000) and English literature (371,700 to 551,050). Computing, additional science, chemistry, maths, physics and geography are also up. However, there are notable declines in uptake for French, German and Spanish – perhaps reflecting the recruitment problems across language subjects.

It comes as overall GCSE entry figures are up by more than three per cent to 5,098,050 in 2017.

Ofqual’s statistical bulletin, Provisional summer 2017 exam entries: GCSEs, AS and A levels, states: “Entries for all non-EBacc subjects showed a decline in 2017, most notably in humanities and leisure and tourism (which are now being discontinued as part of the reform process), and statistics.

“This overall decline indicates that centres are focusing more on the delivery of EBacc subjects than those subjects which do not count towards the EBacc. Progress 8 and Attainment 8 measures are also likely to be influencing these patterns as their calculation can only include a maximum of three non-EBacc GCSEs.”

Elsewhere, entry for AS levels have fallen dramatically, many subjects by around 50 per cent, continuing the trend seen in 2016. This is mainly due, Ofqual states, to the decoupling of the AS from the A level and funding issues within 16 to 19 education.

At A level, meanwhile, entries remain stable. Although there were notable increases in entries for science (from 1,600 to 2,300) and computing (5,750 to 7,700).

Commenting on the GCSE figures, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, warned that the curriculum was looking “increasingly bleak”.

He explained: “Severe funding pressures, and an accountability system which forces schools to focus on a narrower range of subjects, have meant they have had no choice but to cut course options.

“As a result, GCSE entries have fallen in a number of creative subjects, such as art and design, drama, and music, as well as in design and technology. We are also extremely concerned about the decline in entries in modern foreign languages.

“Our education system has long been characterised by its richness and diversity. We can now clearly see that this is being squeezed out by the effect of the accountability system and government underfunding of education. We need to preserve a broad and varied curriculum which engages all young people and equips them with the wide range of skills we need in a global economy.

“The government must address this situation and reverse the real-term cuts in education funding.”

There was also concern this week about what BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, called a “stagnation” in computer science GCSE entries – which rose from 63,650 in 2016 to 69,350 this year.

While the numbers are up, the recent trend of notable growth in computer science has not materialised this year. BCS is concerned that this could be because of a lack of properly qualified teachers. It says that as many as 70 per cent of secondary school computer science teachers “could be lacking a relevant computer science background to teach at GCSE level”.

Bill Mitchell, director of education at BCS, said: “This is deeply worrying. Computer science was only introduced three years ago and is still a new subject for schools. The number of students taking GCSE computer science should be growing very rapidly as schools improve their offering to students and students realise the relevance of the subject for whatever they might be doing in the future.

“We must ensure that schools are properly equipped to provide the best possible options for students at GCSE and that includes computer science. Our view is that will only happen where we make sure teachers are getting the right professional development to make GCSE computer science a success.”


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