Physics returns to the top ten

18 August 2011

A-level results published this morning, Thursday 18 August 2011, by the Joint Council for Qualifications show an increase for the fifth consecutive year in the number of students sitting examinations in physics and, for the first time since 2002, physics is back in the top ten most popular subjects.

The total number of students entered for physics A-level has increased by 6.1%, from 30,976 in 2010 to 32,860 in 2011. 

Professor Sir Peter Knight, incoming-President of the Institute of Physics (IOP), said,

“Year on year we are seeing increases in the number of students choosing to sit physics A-level.  As physics has enjoyed popular rejuvenation - thanks, in no small part, to the ‘Brian Cox effect’ and the excitement surrounding the Large Hadron Collider - we’re sure that many students are also responding to calls from university leaders, businesses and the Government for students to choose subjects which will provide the skills our country needs.  

“The incremental increases each year have led to a significant long-term trend.  Over the last five years, the number of A-level exams taken across all subjects has risen 7.7% but the growth in the number entering for physics is far stronger - a 19.6% increase over the last five years.  Students across the country are hearing the cry for more scientists and rising to the challenge!” 

The encouraging result at A-level is supported by a continued increase in AS-level numbers, with the number of entrants increasing from 45,534 last year to 58,190 this year. The 27.8% increase is partly explained by a change to funding rules for maintained schools in England, but far outstrips the average increase across all subjects of 17.9%.

The striking gender divide in the subject still persists.  Despite total number increases in the number of both girls and boys sitting the exam, the gender divide remains at approximately 1 girl for every 4 boys achieving A level physics. This is an issue that schools receiving support through the IOP’s Stimulating Physics Network are working on.

Clare Thomson, Curriculum and Diversity Manager, pre-19 at IOP, added, “When the target of 35,000 students entering physics A-level by 2014 was first announced, many doubted it could be achieved.  The work undertaken by governments, universities, businesses and learned societies to turn the tide is paying off.

“There is, however, still much work to do – girls and boys alike need to continue seeing the excitement of physics and be helped to understand how physics is relevant to their lives and is the subject providing the toolkit for rising to the most significant challenges of the Twenty First Century.”

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