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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 August, 2004, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Physics A-level loses momentum
Fewer youngsters choose to stay on for A-level physics
There are more pupils taking A-level psychology than physics - and if current trends continue, the declining science subject will be overtaken by sociology.

This year's A-level results reveal the continuing slump in the number of students taking what would once have been seen as a mainstream subject.

And there have been warnings that the decline in students taking physics could damage the UK's long-term economic future.

"A good supply of physicists is vital to the UK because physics is at the heart of science and society," says the Institute of Physics.

Export value

"It underpins engineering and many other scientific disciplines, and is at work in hospitals around the world saving lives every day."

"Physics-based industry" is worth 130bn in export value to the UK economy, says the institute.

Its chief executive, Dr Julia King, says that the lack of students taking physics A-level is a reflection of a lack of advice - with pupils missing out on a potential career in science.

"Physics is in decline and other subjects, such as media studies and art, are increasingly popular despite the poor career prospects they offer. It's a crazy situation," says Dr Julia King, chief executive of the Institute of Physics.

"One of the reasons so many students are making potentially damaging decisions is down to narrow careers advice in schools," she said.

"It is essential that careers education in schools actually helps students to balance their current interests against their future employment prospects."

Declining numbers

Dr King's comments follow a further fall in A-level physics candidates - which now means that the subject represents 3.7% of entries - down from 4.1% last year.

This year there were 28,698 entries for physics A-level - which falls far below an increasingly popular subject such as psychology, which had 46,933 entries.

Two years ago, there were over 31,500 physics students, and fewer than 35,000 psychology students - but the gap has widened sharply.

Media studies, another subject on the increase, is fast approaching the numbers for physics - having now reached 26,894. Sociology is not far behind, with 25,571 entries.

There has also been concern at the even deeper slump facing French, which this year had only 15,149 entries - which means that it has already been overtaken in popularity by A-levels in business, economics, drama and PE.

And if trends continue, French, once considered a major subject, could be overtaken by a non-traditional A-level such as law.

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