August 22, 2011 • 4:24 pm

As pupils prepare for their GCSE results this week, several of the papers this morning carried reports claiming a much smaller proportion have taken exams in traditional subjects than did in 1997.

The SunThe Daily Mail, and Daily Telegraph all carried stories showing that the proportion of students taking subjects that would now comprise the English Baccalaureate (GCSEs in English, maths, sciences, a language and history or geography) fell from half to less than a quarter.

At the same time, all the articles reported a sharp rise in the amount taking ‘non-academic subjects’ – an increase of 3,800 per cent according to The Sun.

All the numbers are drawn from a release sent out by the Conservative party, mostly compiled from Parliamentary Questions and Department for Education (DfE) data.

But do the numbers pass the Full Fact test?

English Baccalaureate

The figures quoted today are drawn a from a Parliamentary Answer to a question from Conservative MP Charlotte Leslie.

The reports accurately quote the numbers. In 1996/7, 292,568 or 49.9 per cent of pupils took Ebacc subjects. In 2009/10 this was 140,551, or 22 per cent of students.

The rate for pupils eligible for free school meals is also given in the answer showing that eight per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals took the Ebacc subjects.

A separate Parliamentary Answer shows that 4.1 per cent of FSM pupils achieved grades A*-C in all of the Ebacc subjects in 2009-10.

Non-Academic subjects

Here, the maths of either The Sun or The Mail at first seemed to be amiss. The Sun’s claim of a 3,800 per cent rise in non-academic subjects is at odds with the Mail’s reporting of a rise from 115,000 non-academic subjects taken in schools in 2004 to 575,000 in 2010. This is, after all, a 400 per cent increase.

The figures, originally from a DfE press release, show that it was the typing rather than the maths that was wayward. According to the Department the figure in 2004 was 15,000 rather than 115,000. Unfortunately the press release gives little more by way of a breakdown of the numbers.

As the claim of a 3,800 per cent rise originates from the Department for Education we are still trying to get a full breakdown of which qualifications were behind the rise, and will update when we get more details.


Based on the information we have seen so far, the reports are largely accurate, save for typing error in the Daily Mail report. As it happened this actually played down the apparent rise in non-academic subjects.

To give it our full seal of approval we would need to see more information from DfE on the 3,800 per cent increase. 

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