IOP expresses concern over drop in A-level physics entries

18 August 2016

The total number of physics entrants across the UK is down by 2.6% this year, with 943 fewer students taking A-level physics than in 2015.

IOP expresses concern over drop in A-level physics entries

Despite physics remaining the ninth most popular A-level, 35,344 students chose to study the subject in the last academic year, compared to 36,287 in the previous one.

In addition, only 21.5% of A-level physics entrants in the UK were girls, despite a higher proportion of girls achieving A or A* grades. This year saw 32.5% of all girls who took physics A-level achieving A or A* grades, compared to 28.8% of all boys who took the subject.

Responding to the figures released today, the IOP’s head of education, Charles Tracy, said the priority was to ensure students have access to high-quality physics education.

“We need to monitor the situation and continue to support teachers to ensure that all students get an excellent experience of physics up to the age of 16, and have every opportunity to choose it for A-level,” he said.

“We need to encourage those with a passion for discovery to consider studying physics at A-level and beyond, but the A-level remains valuable in its own right and is excellent preparation for work or further study.”

He added: “It is an exciting time to become a physicist: from the detection of gravitational waves to the discovery of the Higgs boson, physicists are continually pushing the boundaries of human understanding, with new developments in the field happening all the time.”

Schools working with the IOP to improve physics A-level uptake have seen positive results: those that have participated in the IOP Stimulating Physics Network have seen an increase at more than double the national rate in the number of pupils studying physics beyond GCSE.

In recent years, the trend in the number of students studying physics in the UK has been on the rise. Between 2006 and 2014, numbers rose from 27,700, peaking in 2014 when more than 36,700 pupils chose to study the subject at A-level.

  • For more comment on and analysis of A-level results, see the IOP blog.