GCSE trends: What this year’s results tell us

Computing is booming but music and drama continue to decline, according to this year’s GCSE results (Jordan Pettitt/PA)
Computing is booming but music and drama continue to decline, according to this year’s GCSE results (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

This year’s GCSE results suggest some subjects are flourishing while others could be heading for extinction.

Here are some of the key trends:

– Computing enters top 15 most popular subjects

The top 10 subjects with the most GCSE entries is unchanged this year – as it has been every year since 2018, with the science double award in first place, maths in second place and English third.

There is a new entry in the top 15, however.

Computing has been climbing the chart in recent years and is now in 15th place, up from 16th last year and 20th place in 2016.

Design & technology has been moving in the other direction for some time.

It was the sixth most popular subject back in 2012, but slipped out of the top 10 in 2018 and is now out of the top 15 altogether.

– Music and drama continue to slide

Entries for GCSE music are down 13% this year and drama is down 7%.

Both subjects have been suffering a slow decline for many years and the latest figures suggest they are continuing to fall out of favour.

Music has dropped 36% since 2010 while drama is down 39%.

Completing a bleak picture for the creative industries, GCSE performing arts had just 6,835 entries this year – down 17% from last year and a fall of 72% since 2010.

(PA Graphics)

– Spanish closes in on French

On current form, Spanish could overtake French as soon as next year to become the most popular foreign language at GCSE.

The gap between the subjects has been narrowing for some time and they are now only a few thousand entries apart, with French on 130,901 and Spanish on 125,651.

Spanish has rocketed in popularity over the past few years, with entries up 11% between 2022 and 2023 and up 86% since 2010.

By contrast, French has dropped by 26% since 2010 – though entries were up slightly this year, by 1%.

Meanwhile, German looks to be moving closer towards extinction, falling 4% year-on-year and down 51% from 70,169 entries in 2010 to 34,707 in 2023.

(PA Graphics)

– Other languages

The number of entries classed as “other modern languages” jumped 9% this year to the highest on record.

There were a total of 39,896 entries across the 15 languages covered by this category, comfortably above the 34,707 entries for German.

Within the group, Chinese jumped year-on-year from 5,504 entries to 7,091, Polish rose from 6,003 to 6,938 and Arabic increased from 4,931 to 5,171.

(PA Graphics)

– Gender imbalance

GCSE home economics was formally dropped from the syllabus several years ago, but just over 2,000 candidates took the subject in 2023, of whom 98% were girls – the biggest gender imbalance of any subject, as was the case in 2022.

Other subjects where girls accounted for the vast majority of entries this year included performing arts (95%), health & social care (95%) and social sciences (72%).

Boys made up the most entries in construction (90%), engineering (83%) and computing (79%), as well as the small category called “other technology subjects” (94%).

(PA Graphics)

– Business booms

The recent growth in GCSE business studies shows no sign of faltering. There were 123,166 entries this year, up 15% from last year and an increase of 59% since 2010.

The subject is currently the 14th most popular choice at GCSE and is likely to move up the rankings in the next few years, overtaking Spanish (13th) and French (12th).

– Statistically speaking

Entries for GCSE statistics jumped by 20% this year, lifting it from 26th to 25th place in the rankings.

It is still something of a minnow in terms of entries (26,559), particularly when compared with the big fish at the top of the popularity chart.

But if the subject grows at a similar rate over the next few years, it should move up the rankings quickly and could return to the top 20 for the first time since 2010.