GCSE Science: slower gains, but still great news

The Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) welcomed another good year for science GCSEs, with physics, chemistry, and biology each enjoying a 12.3% rise in entries compared to last year. Although less emphatic than last year’s rises of nearly 16%, the trend is vitally important. There’s also good news for gender balance, with more of the increase coming from girls taking science than boys. Both of these changes now need to continue to filter through to pupils taking A-levels. Triple science entries go up as grades drop slightly – consequences for A-levels?

Commenting on the 12.3% (52,860 more students) rise in ‘triple science’, CaSE director Imran Khan said:

“Employers consistently say they need more staff with science and maths skills, so the continuing rise in entries for Biology, Chemistry, and Physics as separate subjects (‘triple science’) is great news for the country at large, as well as the students who have achieved such excellent results – you’re likely to earn nearly 20% more if you end up in a science-related job than average.”

“You’re more likely to study science at A-level if you did triple science at GCSE, so hopefully we’ll continue to see increases in A-level science and maths next year.”

“Although we’ve seen a slight drop in grades, the exams have been made tougher, so it doesn’t mean students have been working any less hard. In the past there’s been a perception that A-level science is only for those who got top grades at GCSE, but our message today is that it’s not true – we’d encourage everyone who is happy with their science grades to think seriously about going on to study more science.”

Note that although there was also a big increase in entries for the Science GCSE (up 36.1%) this is mostly due to a big shift in students taking it a year earlier, rather than an ‘real’ increase in students taking that subject. There was also a drop in students taking ‘Additional Science’, which was to be expected with entries shifting from ‘double science’ (Science & Additional Science) to ‘triple science’.

Gender gap narrows, but girls still under-represented

More boys than girls take GCSEs in science subjects. This year’s rise in ‘triple science’ has been helped by both students of both genders taking more science GCSEs, but in each of biology, chemistry, and physics, the rise for girls (27,206 more pupils, or 13.6% higher) has been bigger than the rise for boys (25,654, or 11.2% higher).

Khan commented:

“We still see girls and women under-represented at almost every stage of the scientific career, including at GCSEs. This year there were 227,676 girls taking triple science, compared to  254,995 boys. However, like last year, we’re seeing a bigger rise amongst female students, which is great news.”

“The irony is that the girls who do take science GCSEs tend to do better than boys, with more of the top A* and A grades going to girls. This means that more girls should be confident about studying science and performing well – there’s no reason for them to stay away for fear of not getting top grades.”

“There was a drop in top grades overall, which was slightly more pronounced for girls – but, again, they’re still doing a few percentage points better than boys.”

“This year we finally saw a reversal in the gender gap for science A-levels, which had been growing – hopefully these excellent results for girls at GCSE science mean that trend will be continued. We’d really urge everyone who did well to think about continuing to study science.”

Policy issues – diversity in attainment, and emphasis needed on engineering

While welcoming the results, CaSE warns that the momentum needs to be kept up, especially when it comes to where the improvements are coming from. CaSE Director Imran Khan commented:

“Last year we were really concerned to see the extent to which ‘triple science’ was hugely under-represented in the maintained sector, meaning that you’re much more likely to get a good start in science if you go to an independent school. We’ve seen anecdotal evidence suggesting that there’s also a big north/south divide.

“We’re still waiting for the school-type breakdown by subject this year, but we need to pay more attention to making sure that everyone gets the chance to study triple science regardless of gender, or where they went to school.”

“We also need to build on this success with science GCSEs to have more emphasis on practical and engineering skills. At the moment there’s virtually no route for practical-minded students to make a strong start on getting qualifications, especially with the relatively rigorous Engineering Diploma having been downgraded to being worth just one GCSE.”


Notes to editors:

1.     CaSE is the leading independent pressure group for the science and engineering sectors in the UK. Find out more atwww.sciencecampaign.org.uk

2.     The full GCSE results are available here, via the JCQ: http://jcq.org.uk/national_results/gcses/

3.     CaSE’s reaction to last week’s A-level results is available here: http://sciencecampaign.org.uk/?p=10556

4.     CaSE’s reaction to last year’s GCSE results is available here: http://sciencecampaign.org.uk/?p=7009

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