CaSE reaction to A-level results

Another great set of A-levels for science and maths, but huge challenges remain

The Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) welcomed another great year for science and maths A-levels. As well as big increases in the number of students taking maths, further maths, biology, chemistry, and physics, we also saw the ‘market share’ of these subjects increasing for the second year running. In other words, the increases are not simply a result of more students taking A-levels.

However, CaSE warned against any complacency, citing international and historical comparisons, and inequalities in gender and school sector, as examples of the need for increased effort.

The sustained increase in participation comes at a time when more than four in ten employers report difficulties recruiting enough staff with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) skills. See the end of this release for detailed statistics on uptake, attainment, and gender breakdown.

Commenting on the results, CaSE Director Imran Khan said:

“Congratulations are due to students and teachers across the country, today. As well as achieving excellent results, this year’s A-levels have shown a continued shift towards the exciting and rigorous science and maths subjects that are increasingly important for the economy and for our society.”

“Over the past five years we’ve seen a 40% increase in the number of students studying maths, and a nearly 20% increase in those taking physics and chemistry, when the overall number of A-levels being taken has increased by just 7.7%.”

“However, we cannot get complacent. Despite physics breaking into the top 10 A-levels subjects this year, we’ve only just got back to 2002 levels in terms of entries. An international comparison of 24 countries showed that England, Wales, and Northern Ireland were the only ones in which fewer than 20% of students study maths post-16. We desperately need to keep up the momentum.”

“Today I call on the Government to introduce compulsory study of maths post-16, so we can try and match international standards. In 2008 we began calling for higher UCAS points for science and maths subjects, which would be a fantastic driver of uptake – it’s great to see David Willetts being open to this idea.”

Gender:

“We’re still extremely concerned that the gender gap in science and maths is widening, not narrowing. Although we saw more girls taking physics, maths, and chemistry, those increases were hugely outstripped by the number of boys taking them. Physics, for instance, saw nearly 2000 more entries this year, but only a tenth of those were girls.”

“We saw pretty much the same effect last year, and it shows that teachers and the sector still have a lot to do to start reversing the gender gap. Female students are more likely to achieve the very top grades than their male counterparts in physics (38% achieving A*/A compared to 31.7% for boys), suggesting there is every reason to get more girls studying the subject.”

School-type:

“We’re also seeing big inequalities in terms of school-type, just as we did last year. Independent schools account for just 13.4% of all A-levels taken, but provide for 29% of further maths, 18.1% of maths, 17.9% of chemistry, 19.1% of physics, and 14.8% of biology A-level students. Comprehensives are less likely to have their students studying these subjects – supplying 36.6% of all A-levels, but only 27.6% of further maths and 33.9% of chemistry entries, for instance.”

“When employers are demanding these skills, and top universities are increasingly doing the same, it’s clear that we’re potentially disadvantaging a huge number of students.”

Cumulative percentages of Subject Results by Grade and by Gender, provided by JCQ:
(The figures in brackets are the equivalent provisional figures for 2010)
Subject Gender Number % of Total CUMULATIVE PERCENTAGES by Grade
Sat No. Sat A* A B C D E U
Biology Male 26942 6.7 8.1 26.5 49.9 71.6 87.6 96.9 100.0
(25219) (6.4) (7.4) (26.5) (49.3) (70.3) (86.0) (96.3) (100.0)
Female 35099 7.5 9.3 29.7 53.7 74.5 89.0 97.4 100.0
(32635) (7.1) (8.4) (30.0) (53.5) (74.1) (88.9) (97.2) (100.0)
Male & Female 62041 7.2 8.8 28.3 52.1 73.3 88.3 97.1 100.0
(57854) (6.8) (8.0) (28.5) (51.7) (72.4) (87.6) (96.8) (100.0)
Chemistry Male 25329 6.3 10.0 34.5 58.8 77.5 90.0 97.3 100.0
(22994) (5.8) (9.6) (34.4) (58.0) (75.8) (88.4) (96.8) (100.0)
Female 22753 4.9 8.7 34.0 60.2 79.0 91.3 97.8 100.0
(21057) (4.6) (9.0) (35.1) (60.3) (78.8) (90.6) (97.4) (100.0)
Male & Female 48082 5.5 9.4 34.3 59.5 78.2 90.6 97.5 100.0
(44051) (5.2) (9.3) (34.8) (59.1) (77.2) (89.5) (97.1) (100.0)
Mathematics Male 49828 12.4 18.2 44.5 65.6 80.9 91.4 97.4 100.0
(45737) (11.6) (17.3) (44.3) (65.3) (80.5) (90.8) (97.1) (100.0)
Female 33167 7.1 17.1 44.9 67.7 83.3 93.1 98.0 100.0
(31264) (6.8) (17.0) (45.5) (68.2) (83.6) (92.8) (97.9) (100.0)
Male & Female 82995 9.6 17.8 44.7 66.4 81.8 92.0 97.6 100.0
(77001) (9.0) (17.2) (44.8) (66.5) (81.7) (91.6) (97.4) (100.0)
Mathematics (Further) Male 8455 2.1 27.8 57.7 78.7 89.2 95.1 98.2 100.0
(7954) (2.0) (30.7) (58.7) (78.6) (89.4) (94.9) (98.2) (100.0)
Female 3832 0.8 26.9 57.6 79.6 90.0 95.5 98.6 100.0
(3728) (0.8) (28.2) (58.9) (78.9) (90.8) (96.3) (98.7) (100.0)
Male & Female 12287 1.4 27.5 57.7 79.0 89.5 95.3 98.3 100.0
(11682) (1.4) (29.9) (58.8) (78.7) (89.8) (95.4) (98.3) (100.0)
Physics Male 26011 6.5 10.2 31.7 53.8 72.2 87.2 96.4 100.0
(24308) (6.2) (10.0) (31.6) (53.1) (71.4) (85.8) (95.8) (100.0)
Female 6849 1.5 11.2 38.0 60.5 78.5 90.9 97.7 100.0
(6668) (1.4) (11.6) (37.9) (61.6) (78.3) (90.0) (97.1) (100.0)
Male & Female 32860 3.8 10.4 33.0 55.2 73.5 88.0 96.7 100.0
(30976) (3.6) (10.3) (32.9) (54.9) (72.9) (86.7) (96.1) (100.0)
All Subjects Male 401676 100.0 8.2 26.2 50.4 73.7 89.7 97.3 100.0
(393642) (100.0) (7.9) (26.1) (49.8) (72.7) (88.8) (97.0) (100.0)
Female 465641 100.0 8.2 27.7 54.4 78.4 92.6 98.3 100.0
(460291) (100.0) (8.3) (27.9) (54.2) (77.7) (92.1) (98.1) (100.0)
Male & Female 867317 100.0 8.2 27.0 52.6 76.2 91.3 97.8 100.0
(853933) (100.0) (8.1) (27.0) (52.2) (75.4) (90.6) (97.6) (100.0)

ENDS

Notes to editors:

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

2.    The JCQ data can be found here: http://www.jcq.org.uk/national_results/news_releases/2011/

3.    The Nuffield report on whether the UK is an outlier on maths education can be found here: http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/sites/default/files/files/Is%20the%20UK%20an%20Outlier_Nuffield%20Foundation_v_FINAL.pdf

4.    The Russell Group’s ‘Informed Choices’ document, which highlights the importance of science and maths subjects for university entry, can be found here: http://russellgroup.ac.uk/uploads/InformedChoicesupdated_2.pdf

5.    CaSE’s briefing ‘Higher UCAS points for science and mathematics’: http://www.sciencecampaign.org.uk/documents/2008/UCASpoints.pdf

 

 

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