A-level trends: What this year’s results tell us

This year’s A-level results reveal striking trends in subject choices (Jacob King/PA)
This year’s A-level results reveal striking trends in subject choices (Jacob King/PA)

This year’s A-level results reveal a range of subjects on their way up, down or even on their way out, along with striking variations between regions and genders.

Here are some of the key trends:

– Computing leapfrogs religion

Computing saw the biggest increase in the number of A-level entries in the UK this year, jumping by 17% from 15,693 in 2022 to 18,306.

This was enough to propel it into the top 15 most popular subjects – an impressive achievement for a subject that was in 30th place as recently as 2014.

It was also enough to rank it ahead of religious studies for the first time, in what could be seen as a symbolic leapfrogging of a traditional subject by a very modern vocation.

Religious studies has been slipping in popularity for a while, with entries dropping 5% year-on-year and down 38% from a peak in 2016.

(PA Graphics)

– Drama and music resume their decline

Having spent much of the past decade in freefall, entries for both drama and music defied expectation and held steady in 2021 and 2022, suggesting their long-term slump in popularity may have come to a halt.

This now looks to have been only a temporary reprieve, as both subjects this year resumed their decline.

Entries for drama fell 8% compared with 2022 and have dropped by 45% since 2010.

Music is down 7% year-on-year and has also dropped by 45% since 2010.

(PA Graphics)

– Boys v girls

Computing gets another special mention, this time for being the subject that recorded the biggest gender imbalance towards males, with boys making up 85% of entries and girls 15% – the same proportions as in 2022.

Physics (77% boys, 23% girls) and further maths (72% boys, 28% girls) were among the other subjects skewed heavily towards males.

The biggest imbalance towards females was in the relatively new subject of health and social care.

In the double award for this subject, girls made up 94% of entries and boys just 6%.

Performing/expressive arts (91% girls, 9% boys) and Welsh as a first language (80% girls, 20% boys) were other examples of subjects with predominantly female entries.

(PA Graphics)

– French and German fall even further

There is no sign yet of the long-term decline of French and German reaching a standstill, let alone going into reverse.

Entries have dropped again this year, with French numbering 7,063 (a drop of 11% from 2022) and German down to 2,358 (down 16%).

The scale of the slump is striking, with French having fallen 49% since 2010 and German down a mighty 57%.

Spanish remains the most popular of the big three languages (8,110 entries), but this number has now fallen two years in a row, including a drop of 11% this year, suggesting it too might be going out of fashion.

The combined number of entries for other modern languages – which includes Chinese, Italian and Russian – stood at 5,955, up 8% year-on-year, but this is still well below the 8,289 in entries in 2019.

(PA Graphics)

– North v south

The North East and Yorkshire & the Humber are the only two regions of England where the proportion of A-level entries awarded the top grades is lower this year than in 2019.

Every other region has seen the proportion remain above pre-pandemic levels, according to analysis by the PA news agency.

In north-east England, 22.0% of entries were awarded grades of A or above this year, below the 23.0% recorded in 2019, while in Yorkshire & the Humber the figure for 2023 is 23.0%, compared with 23.2% in 2019.

The contrast is most striking with parts of southern England, particularly in London where 30.0% of entries were awarded A or A* this year, well above 26.9% in 2019, and in the South East (30.3% in 2023, 28.3% in 2019).

– Economics is on the up

The UK economy may be struggling, but economics A-level is flourishing.

It was the ninth most popular subject this year – its first ever appearance in the top 10 – and the third most popular subject among boys, up from fifth in 2022.

Entries rose by 7% year-on-year and are up by 71% since 2010.

Business studies is also continuing to do well, up 6% year-on-year and 42% since 2010, enough to see it climb from 8th place to 7th place in the rankings, having joined the top 10 as recently as 2020.

(PA Graphics)

– English literature holds on

There is also promising news for fans of English literature.

Entries in the subject dropped by nearly a quarter (23%) between 2017 – when it was reintroduced as an A-level – and 2022.

This was enough to see it slip in the popularity rankings from 6th place to 12th.

This year has brought a surprise, with entries up on 2022 by a modest 3%.

Talk of a long-term decline can be put on hold, at least for the time being.