ANNEX 3: STATISTICAL ANALYSIS OF THE TAKEUP
OF SCIENCE POST-16
1. We have obtained two different sets of data that
show entries to science and maths A levels over time. The first,
provided by the awarding body AQA, is based on candidates for
all awarding bodies across England, Wales and Northern Ireland
in a particular year and goes back to 1985.
The second, provided by DfES, isolates those aged 17 in England
at the beginning of an academic year and shows any A level results
that they may have accumulated over that and the previous two
years. This data has been provided back to 1992, when the method
for collecting such information was changed. Figure A1 below shows
the entries to science and maths A levels from each set of data.
Figure A1a: Graph showing the number of
entries to science and maths A levels by candidates of all ages
in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Figure A1b: Graph showing the number of
entries to science and maths A levels by 17 year olds in England.
2. The two sets of data show similar, but not identical,
patterns. After increasing through the early and mid 1990s, entries
to biology A level are now starting to fall. In chemistry, the
numbers have remained, on average, static. Entries to physics,
after decreasing significantly in the early 1990s, have now stabilised.
In figures A2-A4, we have chosen to use the data provided by DfES
for entries from 17 year olds. This is because we are primarily
interested in those students that are moving directly from GCSE
into A level and the influence that their experiences at GCSE
have on their subject choices and level of attainment. In addition,
this report focuses on the situation in England only.
3. Figure A2 compares the number of students entering
A level physics with the number that successfully pass the exam
at grades AE. While the overall trend is similar in both
cases, it is not identical. Between 1992 and 1996, the number
of entries to A level physics fell by over 15% while the number
of students passing the exam fell by less than 9%. This reflects
the rising pass rate: in 1992 the pass rate was 80.6% and in 1996
it was 87.4%. Since then the pass rate has risen more slowly and
in 2001 was at 90.3%. This is why the numbers passing and entering
physics A level have mirrored each other more closely over the
last 5 years. In all other figures we have chosen to use the data
showing the number of entries to a subject. This is because, in
this inquiry, we are primarily interested in the choices that
students are making at age 16. For those interested in, for example,
the takeup of physics at university, it may be more appropriate
to look at the data showing attainment at A level.
Figure A2: Graph comparing the number
of entries to A level physics with the number of passes at grades
AE over time.
4. Between 1992 and 2001 the overall number of A
level entries increased by 26%. Figure A3 shows the proportion
of these entries that came from science and maths. Only biology
has maintained its "market share". Chemistry, physics
and maths are becoming steadily less popular choices with students.
Figure A3: Graph showing entries to science
and maths A levels as a percentage of all A levels entries over
5. Figure A4 shows the number of entries to biology,
chemistry and physics A levels by gender. Since 1992, the proportion
of entries to physics from girls has remained fairly static at
just over 20%. Similarly, the proportion of entries to biology
from boys has remained fairly static reaching a high of 40% in
1996 and 1997 and falling back to 38% by 2001. Chemistry is where
the change has occurred. In 1992, boys made up 59% of A level
chemistry entries. By 2001 the numbers of entries from boys and
girls were split almost evenly; 50.4% of entries were from boys.
Figure A4a: Graph showing the number of
entries to biology A level by gender.
Figure A4b: Graph showing the number of
entries to chemistry A level by gender.
Figure A4c: Graph showing the number of
entries to physics A level by gender.
6. In Scotland, students typically enter 4 or
5 subjects at Higher level at age 17. Figure A5 shows the number
of entries to Scottish Highers in the sciences and maths. It is
based on data provided by the Scottish Qualification Authority
These subjects are attracting progressively fewer entries, as
in England. Unlike England, the three sciences are equally represented
Figure A5: Graph showing the total number
of entries to science and maths Scottish Highers.
7. The graph in figure A6 compares the change in
the number of entries to A level subjects in England by 17 year
olds, to change in the number of entries to Scottish Highers.
This has been calculated from 1992-2000 because this is the longest
time period over which we have comparable data. There was a rise
in entries to biology and chemistry in England over this time
period, at the same time as entries were falling in Scotland.
The fall in entries to physics in Scotland is greater than that
seen in England. By contrast, a greater increase in the take-up
of maths has been seen in Scotland.
Figure A6: The percentage change in the
number of entries to Scottish Highers and A levels in England
between 1992 and 2000.
8. Figure A7 shows the number of candidates entering
selected A level subjects in 2001. The data is for candidates
of all ages in England as collated by the Joint Council for General
English is the most popular A level, followed by maths, biology
and chemistry. Physics lies not far behind. The sciences remain
popular choices at A level.
Figure A7: Graph showing the number of
entries to selected A level subjects in 2001.
9. Figure A8 is based on the numbers of 17 year olds
in schools and colleges passing three or more A/AS levels in 2000.
It shows those passing science and maths subjects only, science
or maths combined with other subjects and those not studying science
or maths at all. Overall, 60% of students passed at least one
science A level. This comprised 70% of males and 50% of females.
Twice as many girls as boys did not pass any science subjects
at A/AS level.
Figure A8: Pie Chart showing the AS/A
level subject combinations passed by 17 year olds in 2000.
10. Figure A9 shows the number of candidates for
all Advanced GNVQ subjects that attracted more than 500 entries
in 2001. The data is for 16-18 year olds in England.
Takeup is much lower than for traditional A levels. The
total number of entries to Advanced GNVQ was 40,000, compared
to almost 650,000 for A levels. Health and Social Care is the
most popular science-based GNVQ with 5,472 entries. Science attracted
only 1,172 entries. Although the numbers are low, they do represent
a significant increase in recent years. In 1999, the Advanced
GNVQ in health and social care attracted 3,149 entries, while
science drew 607.
Figure A9: Graph showing the number of
entries for Advanced GNVQs in 2001.
275 This data has been collated by the Institute of
Physics and is available from www.iop.org/Policy/Statistics Back
This data has been collated by the Institute of Physics and is
available from www.iop.org/Policy/Statistics Back
Available from www.jcgq.org.uk Back
Statistics of Education: Public Examinations GCSE/GNVQ and GCE/AGNVQ
in England 2000. DfES. Table 19. Back
GCSE/GNVQ and GCE A/AS/VCE/Advanced GNVQ Examination Results 2000/2001
England. DfES. 2002. Table 14. Available only from www.dfes.gov.uk/statistics Back