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A-level physics results give cause for concern in Wales and Northern Ireland

23 August 2022

A fall in the numbers of people taking the subject comes as the UK faces a cost of living and energy crisis without the technical skills and scientific innovation to address it.

Responding to this year’s A-level exam results, Head of IOP Wales, Eluned Parrott, said: “We are concerned that only 22% of those studying A-level physics in Wales are girls. Chemistry and biology have not seen this gender gap, with girls in the majority.

“The drop in students taking AS-level physics, the largest fall for any subject in Wales, is equally worrying for future years. Wales’s new curriculum and education reforms must address these problems.”

Overall participation in physics in Wales fell by 1%, which was in line with the decline in total A-level entries. As a proportion of the total A-levels, physics remained at 5.6%.

For AS-level physics, there were 542 fewer students, meaning a 21% decline.

These patterns were mirrored in Northern Ireland, with, however, the odd bright spot.

Lee Reynolds, Acting Head of IOP Ireland and Northern Ireland, said: “Our heartfelt congratulations to all those receiving results especially considering the pandemic disruptions to their studies.

“The fall in the numbers of UK students studying physics at A-level is worrying as is the fact that still only around 23% are girls. Northern Ireland still has the worst uptake of physics in the UK but the fact that Northern Ireland bucked these national trends with both growth in the number of students studying physics and 29% of those being girls is welcome progress.

“These positive developments need to be built upon by schools adopting the whole-schools equity plans.

“This overall fall leaves the UK facing a cost of living and energy crisis without the technical skills and scientific innovation of potentially thousands of students who are missing out on a physics education. These types of roles are essential to the high-value jobs Northern Ireland needs to create to flourish.

“We need better support from government for the recruitment and retention of specialist physics teachers along with investment in improving careers guidance in schools – students from all backgrounds should be encouraged to see physics as the choice for them.

“Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without ongoing continuing professional development for physics teachers, negatively impacting on teacher and student experiences.”

Republic of Ireland’s Leaving Certificate results are out on 2 September.