17 August 2022

Action needed to ‘stop spiral of decline’ in English literature A-level

17 August 2022

Urgent action is needed to “stop the spiral of decline” in the popularity of English literature at A-level, a headteachers’ union has warned.

It should be a “living, breathing subject which inspires and empowers young people”, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said, as it lamented the continued drop in entries.

The number of entries for English literature A-level in England has fallen from 42,246 in 2017, when the current syllabus was introduced, to 35,977 in 2021 – a drop of 15%.

They are predicted to fall even further this year to just below 33,000 – an 8.9% year-on-year change, according to provisional figures from Ofqual.

There has been an even steeper drop for entries in English language A-level, down 32% from 20,641 in 2017 to 14,121 in 2021 – although Ofqual expects entries to have levelled off this year at just above 14,000.

Entries for the combined A-level in English language and literature tumbled 30% from 10,250 in 2017 to 7,158 in 2021, and could dip below 7,000 this year.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the rise in interest in other subjects, but said he had “severe concern” about English Literature, blaming Government reforms to GCSE for “putting students off” continuing it to A-level.

He said: “A-level entries are up 4.2% this year – partly because of the increase in the 18-year-old cohort – and it is great to see subjects such as psychology and sociology doing so well with big rises of 11.6% and 9.5% respectively.

“However, we have to express severe concern about the continuing decline in English entries at A-level with English Literature down 8.9% this year.

“It should be perfectly clear to the Government that its reforms to GCSE English Literature are obviously putting students off the subject because of the grind of memorising large amounts of traditional texts.

“Literature is a vital part not only of our cultural past, but of our diverse cultural present, and it should be a living, breathing subject which inspires and empowers young people.

“The GCSE specification needs to be urgently reviewed and action taken to stop the spiral of decline we are seeing at A-level.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “English Literature remains a popular subject and the National Curriculum for English aims to ensure that all pupils appreciate our rich literary heritage.

“We have reformed GCSE and A-level in English Language and Literature to be more rigorous and better prepare pupils for further study and employment.”

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