Q4. What proportion of students choose to continue each of the sciences (physics, chemistry and biology) and maths at A level?

Note that this figure may be harder to get hold of in schools which have no post-16 provision, because they would have to get the data from the post-16 institutions which they feed into.

Why this is important

  • A level is the gateway to university study, and there is evidence26 that people with STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) graduate degrees are better paid.
  • It is predicted that the percentage of jobs related to STEM will continue to increase, leading to better employment prospects for those with STEM skills.
  • Research suggests that students are more likely to choose an A level subject if they:
    • experience high quality teaching that inspires interest and enjoyment at previous Key Stages
    • attain good exam results at previous Key Stages and consider themselves ‘good’ at the subject
    • see the relevance of the subject to their future plans/career

Benchmarks

Below are the figures for entries to biology, chemitry and physics as percentages of all A level entries in the UK in 2016. Note that these levels are not necessarily ideal – if your school at or above thse benchmarks, it may still wish to increase the number of students taking science and maths A levels.

A level

In terms of the percentage of overall entries in the UK in 2016:

  • 7.5% were in biology
  • 6.2% were in chemistry
  • 11.1% were in maths
  • 4.2% were in physics

More detailed information on national entry rates and attainment are available from the Joint Council for Qualifications.

You can also use the government’s Compare school performance website to compare your school against others on a variety of indicators including progress scores, average results and grades.

Ideas for improvement

A level choice can function as an indicator of inspirational and effective teaching. It is quite common for schools to do much better in one science than another on this measure, and this can be revealing about the relative strengths of the science department. Governors should keep this mind when considering the following ideas for improvement.

If you think that not enough students in your school are choosing science A levels, you could ask school leaders to report on some of the questions below:

  • Do our teachers have up-to-date subject knowledge and teaching skills?
  • Are we doing enough interesting hands-on practical work?
  • Could students become more motivated to learn about science and maths if they engaged with them more informally, outside of science lessons, for example in extracurricular trips or other enrichment activities?
  • Are we placing science and maths in the context of careers and the world around us?
  • Does the school convey to students the value of STEM subjects in opening doors to future courses of study and future careers?

Other questions in Choices

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