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Worrying decline in study of History and English at A Level, warns British Academy

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The new President of The British Academy, Professor Sir David Cannadine, has expressed concern at a fall in numbers taking A- levels in Humanities subjects such as English and History.

Entries for English and History were down 5.6% and 6.8% respectively. While recent university applications are stable, the British Academy is concerned that this decline may affect future undergraduate numbers. There are fears that take-up of these subjects may drop further following the ‘decoupling’ of AS Levels in England, which traditionally were used by students to broaden their subject mix before specialising in their final year at school.

David Cannadine, who took up the role of President of the British Academy in July, is the author of a wide range of books on the history of modern Britain, including a recent biography of Margaret Thatcher.

He said “Studying subjects such as History puts the whole of human experience in context and help us to understand cultures, societies and why humans behave as they do. There is not a challenge facing the world today which can be solved by looking through a scientific lens alone.

“What’s more, the sorts of skills that students gain from studying subjects such as English and History are vital to our future prosperity, especially in a world of ever-more complicated international engagement and with Brexit looming. Skills such as the ability to appraise evidence critically, persuade, negotiate, and unravel complexity will be crucial. International examples show that a broad curriculum allows school-leavers to develop a wide range of skills and interests. We shouldn’t force students down a narrow path at a time when they should be broadening their perspectives.”

The British Academy exists to champion the humanities and social sciences – subjects from economics to English, psychology to languages, literature to law. The Academy funds outstanding research, provides expertise and analysis to decision-makers, and acts as a forum for public debate.

It will launch a report this Autumn on the skills of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences graduates and their contribution to society and the economy.

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