Mini-series: Sixth forms without physics or maths

Hundreds of schools and colleges are not entering any students for A-level physics.

This was the finding of Department for Education research publicised in the Guardian, using the most recent (2014) examination data. My subsequent work, using the same 2014 data, supports the DfE’s finding. Although, as I will explain briefly with this blog post on the global figures, I don’t think this in itself is something we need to worry a great deal about.

However, gender effects, school size effects and how this issue is developing over time for the other facilitating subjects may well be more concerning. These are the three themes that are introduced and discussed in the other three blog posts making up this mini-series.

All of these findings are taken from my full-length report on the topic, published as part of the joint data project with the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Physics and the Gatsby Foundation. The report is data-heavy and includes a more in-depth analysis of gender, regional and school-type factors.

The global figures

The analysis showed that while a significant number of school sixth forms had no entries to AS- or A-level physics (9.1%), the proportion of the country’s students who study at these establishments is far less significant (1.9%).

Data insight: For our research, we did do some things slightly differently to the DfE. I separated further education colleges out from the main analysis, and included a limited analysis of them separately in the report. So the results in this mini-series relate to school sixth forms only.


The number of students attending school sixth forms which have no entries to AS- or A-level physics is 25% lower than its 2005 level. However, the number of school sixth forms with no entries to physics is the same now as it was a decade ago, at 9.1%.


If you think that these global figures do present some significant problems for physics education, I would be really interested to hear from you in the comments below. As ever, please feel free to share your thoughts on my analyses and any issues raised, whatever they may be.

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