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English literature drops out of top 10 most popular A-levels for first time

English literature has fallen out of the top 10 most popular subjects at A-level for the first time (Ryan Phillips/PA)
English literature has fallen out of the top 10 most popular subjects at A-level for the first time (Ryan Phillips/PA)

English literature has fallen out of the top 10 most popular subjects at A-level for the first time.

It saw the biggest drop in candidates for a single subject with more than 1,000 entries, falling by 9.4% from 39,492 in 2021 to 35,791 this year.

The figures on Thursday, as students received their exam results across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, came after a headteachers’ union warned that urgent action was needed to “stop the spiral of decline” in the popularity of the subject.

The increase in the popularity of geography managed to push English literature out of the top 10.

Derek Richardson, vice-president of Pearson UK, which owns exam board Edexcel, said the interests of students change over time.

Mr Richardson, who said as an English literature graduate he recognises “the importance of the subject”, added: “English literature has been in the top 10 for as long as we looked back and so this is the first time that we’ve seen it drop out of the top 10.”

He said it is “clear that students today are interested in following different subjects than subjects that I was taking when I was doing my A-levels”.

He added: “So things that students are interested in studying changes over time and that seems to be what’s happening at the moment.”

The top five subject rankings by popularity are unchanged this year with maths, psychology, biology, chemistry and history remaining the top choices for students.

The rest of the top 10 is made up of sociology, art and design, business studies, physics and geography.

Geography managed to push English literature out of the top 10 (Alamy/PA)

Earlier this week, 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’s decline, blaming Government reforms to GCSE for “putting students off” continuing it to A-level.

He said: “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 the Government had reformed GCSE and A-level in English language and literature “to be more rigorous and better prepare pupils for further study and employment”.