Page last updated at 18:48 GMT, Thursday, 14 August 2008 19:48 UK

Revival hopes for 'stem' subjects

by Angela Harrison
BBC News education reporter

There has been a drive to boost science in school

A growing number of students are taking maths and science A-levels, prompting hopes that a downward trend in popularity is being turned around.

There have been concerns about the numbers taking "stem" subjects science, technology, engineering and maths.

But data on the numbers of students taking them in England, Wales and Northern Ireland suggest an upturn.

There were 4,500 more entries for maths this year (up 7.5%), while entries for chemistry rose 3.5% and biology 2.7%.

More students also sat A-levels in French and Spanish and in other languages, particularly Chinese.

The annual publication of A-level results gives one of the clearest indications of the strength of various subjects in schools and colleges.

Dramatic falls

Maths entries at A-level suffered dramatic falls after changes to the curriculum in 2000 led to a higher failure rate.

Between 2001 and 2002, there was an 18% drop in maths entries.

The curriculum was changed and since then maths has regained some popularity.

This year, there were 64,593 entries for maths, compared to 60,093 last year.

Further maths also rose - from 7,782 to 9,091.

More candidates are doing maths than at any other time in the past
Mike Cresswell, AQA exam board

Mike Cresswell, director general of the AQA exam board, said the outlook for maths and the sciences was encouraging.

"More candidates are doing maths than at any other time in the past. The country needs that," he said.

Speaking for the English exam boards collectively, Dr Cresswell said entries in biology and chemistry were at their highest levels for a decade and that physics entries were up as well.

Physics showed a rise of 630, or about 2.3% - up from 27,466 to 28,096.

Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, the UK national academy of science, said: "Today's results for science and maths A-levels give us reason to be encouraged.

"Maths and further maths have continued their robust recovery, with the numbers of students taking these A-levels increasing for the fifth year in a row.

"This is a welcome pay-off for the serious efforts made in recent years to boost this subject.

"The embryonic turn-around we saw in physics last year has been consolidated. We hope this will signal a longer-term turn-around for the subject.

“It is another good year for chemistry and biology, which both continue the steady increases they've seen in recent years.”


Yvonne Baker, chief executive of Stemnet, a body set up to promote "stem" subjects, said: “At a time when all too frequently we hear doom and gloom predictions of a decline in stem subjects, what a change from the usual hand wringing the reporting of today's A-level results makes for reading.

"For once we are seeing widespread positive coverage of the uptake in entries for all Stem subjects, with increases ranging from 2.3% up to 15.5%."

There were also increases in the numbers of students taking languages at A-level.

French rose by 2.8%, Spanish by 1.5%. The numbers taking Chinese rose from 2,441 entries to 2780.

Other languages, such as Arabic, Russian and Turkish also increased, but from lower bases. There was a 0.9% fall in the number of entries for German.

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