Health of humanities and social sciences revealed in new report and landmark data platform launched by the British Academy

11 Jan 2023

The British Academy has today launched a new report analysing the health of humanities and social science subjects in secondary and further education across the UK since 2012. This report is supported by a new, landmark data resource that visualises student numbers in these subject qualifications.

Studying SHAPE: 2022 is the first in an annual series of reports analysing the number of students taking the most common secondary and further education qualifications in the UK, in humanities and social science subjects. Forthcoming reports in the series will focus on the same subjects at alternate and higher levels of study, and in employment, as well as assessing the drivers of emerging trends.

To support this analysis, the Academy has also launched SHAPE Indicators, a data visualisation resource which brings together vital statistics on the health of the humanities and social sciences. The resource provides government, policymakers, journalists, the UK’s disciplinary communities, the public and those working in the Higher Education sector with an accessible evidence base for the subjects. This is a pilot evidence base that the Academy will look to expand and build upon in the years to come, adding greater longitudinal analysis and expanding the range of qualifications considered.

As part of its SHAPE Observatory work, the Academy provides evidence on emerging trends affecting the humanities and social sciences. Its inaugural ‘Studying SHAPE’ report considers data on A level and GCSE entries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as at National 5, Higher, and Advanced Highers in Scotland, analysing trends in student numbers over a ten-year period and shorter periods in between.

Findings include:

Social sciences

Entries for most social sciences at A level and GCSE have grown over the past decade and across Scottish qualifications. Subjects such as Geography, Sociology, and Psychology remain amongst the most popular subjects at both GCSE and A level. In Scotland, some social science subjects such as Economics and Politics have also seen an increase in entries. However, for other subjects such as Accounting and Business Management, the overall picture is more mixed.

  • Business Studies A level entries have risen by 48% since 2012 and increased by 10% between 2021 and 2022
  • Economics A level entries increased by 50% between 2012 and 2021, and by 9% between 2021 and 2022
  • Geography A level entries have increased by 17% since 2012 and enjoyed a 9% increase between 2021 and 2022. Geography is the sixth most popular subject at GCSE level this year.


Many humanities subjects have endured a challenging decade, a trend that has continued in 2022. Between 2021 and 2022, numbers across almost all humanities subjects at GCSE and A level either decreased or saw only a slight increase. In Scotland, there have been increases in entries for some humanities subjects, such as Chinese, but other, larger subjects, such as History, Philosophy, French and German, have seen ups and downs.

  • Entries for English Literature at GCSE have risen by 31% since 2012, yet at A level declined by 9% between 2021 and 2022
  • History is the second largest SHAPE subject at A level, despite numbers dropping by 9% since 2012
  • Religious Studies A level entry numbers have declined by 23% since 2012 but numbers at GCSE have remained fairly stable, with an increase of 2% since 2012 - the subject remains one of the most popular humanities at this level
  • French A level entries have dropped by 36%, while German A level entries are down 41% since 2012 – trends that are similar in Scotland.
  • Spanish is up 24% at A Level and 55% at GCSE since 2012.

As well as publishing overarching analyses of the humanities and social sciences, the SHAPE Observatory examines the health of individual subjects and analyses the factors behind key trends. In 2023 it will publish an analysis of English Studies and has published more detailed reports on Modern Languages, Business and Management Studies, and Theology and Religious Studies.

Professor Julia Black, President of the British Academy, said:

“By bringing together disparate datasets for the first time, this major report and data resource provides a robust and accessible evidence base. As we look to build on the evidence year-on-year, we hope that this publication will become an anticipated and invaluable asset for key decision-makers when analysing the health of the disciplines across the UK, as well as those who, like the British Academy, are passionate about speaking up for these crucial and sometimes undervalued subjects.”

For more key findings from the ‘Studying SHAPE: 2022’ report, contact [email protected].

Contact the press office

For further information contact the Press Office on [email protected]  / 07500 010 432.

Sign up to our email newsletters