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IOP congratulates physics students but ‘mixed results’ in Scotland show change needed

9 August 2022

Girls – perennially under-represented in the subject – are still outperforming boys at all exam levels.

Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) results were published today and at the Institute of Physics (IOP) we congratulate all of the candidates and their teachers on their hard work during what has proved to be a difficult year due to the ongoing COVID-19 disruptions.

There is mixed news in terms of the physics exam results.

At Higher level, the number of entries is down from 8,480 last year to 8,045 with the percentage of girls studying the subject unfortunately continuing the downward trend since pre-pandemic with only 26% of the entries being girls. However, those girls that do study physics continue to significantly outperform their male peers with 44.8% gaining an A grade.

At National 5, the number of entries, 13,210, is up compared to 2021 (12,975), but this is nevertheless still down on pre-pandemic levels. Unfortunately, as with Highers, the percentage of girls continues on a downward trend to 27.6%. This drop in entries at National 5 may be in part explained by an increase in awards at National 4 to 3,650 from 3,035 in 2021.

At Advanced Higher there is better news with entries increasing to a historical high of 2,130. The percentage of girls studying physics at Advanced Higher has remained stable at 23.2% but, as is generally the case with physics at all levels, those girls who do study the subject significantly outperform boys with 44.5% of girls obtaining an A grade as opposed to 33.7% of boys, and 87.2% passing with a C grade or better as opposed to 78.8% of boys.

IOP Learning and Skills Manager (Scotland), Stuart Farmer, said: “Analysis of the performance of students on characteristics other than gender is not possible due to the lack of available data, however, IOP’s research shows that too many young people are being denied the opportunity to study physics because of the misconceived ideas about physics that they are told by people whose opinions they trust and because of the prejudice and stereotypes that they experience because of who they are.

“They are told that physics is ‘not for the likes of them’, based not only on their gender identity but also ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or social background.

“This has to change, and the IOP’s Limit Less campaign is challenging the misconceptions and stereotypes and removing the barriers to young people studying physics after the age of 16. We will help more young people to seize the opportunities physics offers for their future – and their world.”