Schools are robbing children of the chance to go to a top university by pushing them to take vocational subjects, an MP has claimed.
Margot James (Con Stourbridge) criticised schools which encouraged pupils to take subjects such as leisure and tourism instead of academic subjects including history or geography.
Speaking in the House of Commons, she claimed teachers in her Black Country constituency were pushing children to take easier subjects to ensure the school did well in league tables.
But this meant they ended up doing similar subjects at A-Level – and were prevented from taking a traditional academic subject at a leading university.
Her comments were challenged by a union official, who said schools were actually cutting back on vocational subjects due to pressure from the Government.
Ms James told MPs that just 25 per cent of Stourbridge students take history at GCSE level, and fewer than 20 per cent take geography.
She said: “Too many children are encouraged to start studying vocational subjects at a young age, for no other reason than to boost their schools’ league table rankings.
“An ambitious boy aged 14 from one of the secondary schools in my constituency told me, while doing work experience for me, that he liked history.
“When I asked him what GCSEs he was doing, I was surprised to hear that history did not feature among them because he had been encouraged to take leisure and tourism instead. He was a bright boy.”
She added: “At age 14, many children, especially from families that have never benefited from higher education, make GCSE subject selections that narrow the choices available to them at A-level.”
This meant they ended up at a further education college or a “new university” such as a former polytechnic rather than an established academic university, she said.
By contrast, children in independent schools were more likely to study A-Level subjects such as history or foreign languages, and went on to dominate the best universities, she said.
Ms James also claimed schools focused their efforts on helping children heading for a grade “D” at GCSE to improve their performance and gain a “C” instead, because league tables measured the number of pupils who gained a “C” or above.
This meant they didn’t support the brightest youngsters, she said.
“As politicians, we regularly congratulate our schools for increasing the percentage of pupils who pass five GCSEs with a C grade or above, including in English and maths, yet for those of us who aspire to send our own children to independent schools or pray that they get into state academically selective schools, that is an uncomfortable, almost hypocritical situation to find ourselves in.
“We celebrate that standard, yet if it were applied to our own children, we would be aghast. For students in independent or academically selective schools, the standard is nine or 11 A grades, and we ask how many are A*. That division is intolerable.”
A spokeswoman for teaching union NASUWT said that schools were actually moving in the opposite direction, thanks to Education Secretary Michael Gove’s decision to publish league tables showing how many pupils in each school achieve the English Baccalaureate.
Schools were judged for many years on how many pupils achieved five or more GCSEs at grades C or better including English and maths, but in order to achieve the Baccalaureate a pupil must gain GCSEs in English, maths, a language, a humanity subject such as history or geography and two science subjects.
Tables published in January showed that 13.6 per cent of Birmingham pupils achieved the English Baccalaureate.
Anne Brimacombe, West Midlands national executive member with the NASUWT teaching union, said: “Children should have a choice of a wide curriculum.
“What is happening now is that the Government is pushing the English Baccalaureate and schools are focusing on that.
“In the past, pupils would do English, maths and maybe a science subject, and then they would be free to choose subjects they enjoy.
“But now the temptation is to guide them towards history, geography and a foreign language.”