Physics: A-level entrant increase accelerates

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The Joint Council for Qualifications has now published results for 2009’s cohort of 805 657 A-level students which included particularly encouraging news for physics.

Not only has the number of physics A-level entrants continued to rise for the third consecutive year, the rate of increase has doubled for A-level and more than quadrupled for AS-level.

This year’s 4.8% increase, with an additional 1 340 students sitting physics compared to 2008, is a huge improvement on last year’s increase of 2.3%.  The numbers have increased, the rate of increase is accelerating and, notably, the proportion of students taking physics is also improving as the total number of entrants for all subjects decreased from 827 737 in 2008 to 805 657 this year.

Dr. Robert Kirby-Harris, chief executive at the Institute of Physics (IOP), said, “We are really pleased to see a convincing turn-round with further and larger increases in numbers taking physics – indeed, this year’s results leaves us in no doubt that efforts to improve uptake in physics are working.”

The number of AS-level entrants in physics is even better news, proving that messages about the benefits and importance of physics are getting through, and might be a reflection of success for the new GCSE curricula.  This year, 41 955 students sat AS level physics this year, almost 4 000 more than in 2008, representing a 10% increase.

If a significant proportion of the students can be retained from AS to A level, current policy-makers might be congratulating themselves next year for hitting their target – four years early – to see 35 000 young people sitting physics A-level by 2014.

Charles Tracy, head of education pre-19 at IOP, said, “We congratulate all this year’s candidates on their success.  We are particularly pleased to see a larger proportion of them choosing physics at AS, making it one of the top ten subjects among 17 year olds.

“Interestingly, this year’s AS-level entrants are the first to have progressed from the new science GCSE curricula.  The release of today’s figures show that these new GCSEs are achieving one of the things they set out to do – encouraging more young people to take subjects like physics up to A-level and beyond.”

The gender divide in the physics classroom has only marginally decreased with a relative constant ratio of three to four boys to every girl.

For full results tables for physics click here.

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