This year’s GCSE results have revealed a dramatic new trend in the popularity of certain academic subjects, as more traditional areas are increasingly neglected in favour of more ‘exciting’ and ‘easy’ options.

Modern Languages Plummeting

The number of students opting to study modern languages at GCSE level has dropped dramatically, with the number of entries for French a shocking 29% lower than five years ago. German has also suffered, with 25% fewer candidates. Schools Minister Nick Gibb described the trend as “worrying”, and many have blamed it on the Labour government’s decision to end compulsory language study after the age of 14.

Easy Option

Meanwhile newer, more ‘trendy’ subjects like Art and Design, Drama and Theatre Studies are on the rise, with similar trends seen at A-Level. Kathryn Board, spokesperson for the National Centre for Languages, suggested that the reason for the change might be that students perceive more traditional subjects like modern languages as “harder subjects”, choosing to take the courses in which they think they are “more likely to get an A grade”. Geography and History have also suffered a sharp drop in student numbers.

English Baccalaureate

In an attempt to lure schools and students back to more ‘traditional’ subjects, the government has introduced the English Baccalaureate, a league table system whereby schools will be ranked according to the performance of pupils in a core group of academic subjects; English, Maths, Science, a modern language and either Geography or History. Many have welcomed the move, but it has also been criticised after it emerged that some schools were so desperate to perform highly in the league tables that they uprooted some students mid-course and pushed them into studying the ‘E Bacc’ subjects rather than those they themselves had chosen.

‘Soft’ Subjects for University Entry

This new move towards compulsory ‘serious’ subjects is claimed to be partly for the benefit of children from more disadvantaged areas, after a recent study showed their university admissions applications were suffering as a result of poor advice on subject choices. It was claimed that many top universities such as Oxford and Cambridge were less impressed by new, untraditional subjects and that poor advice on course choices was disadvantaging some students as a result. Gibb pointed out that “just 8% of children eligible for free school meals were entered for the E Bacc subjects last year compared to 22% overall”.

With Google chairman Eric Schmidt criticising British education this week for “holding back the country’s chances of success”, it is evident that something needs to be done, and fast. Whether or not the new E Bacc system will create the desired change remains to be seen.