Select Committee on Science and Technology Third Report


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.[275] 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 time.


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 (SQA).[276] These subjects are attracting progressively fewer entries, as in England. Unlike England, the three sciences are equally represented in Scotland.

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

   Qualifications.[277] 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.[278] 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.[279] 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

276   This data has been collated by the Institute of Physics and is available from www.iop.org/Policy/Statistics Back

277   Available from www.jcgq.org.uk Back

278   Statistics of Education: Public Examinations GCSE/GNVQ and GCE/AGNVQ in England 2000. DfES. Table 19. Back

279   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


 
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