Press release

Wellcome Trust Head of Education comments on A-level results

Students in England, Northern Ireland and Wales today receive the results of their A-level examinations. The number of students taking A-level sciences and mathematics has risen again this year: physics by 5 per cent, chemistry 2 per cent, biology 2 per cent, mathematics 3 per cent and further mathematics 8 per cent.

This continues a trend that goes back to around 2004, when the steady decline in popularity of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects over the previous decade began to be reversed - although it was not until 2010 that the proportion of all A levels that were taken in physics, chemistry and biology finally began to rise. Unfortunately, women are still seriously under-represented in physics and mathematics entries, although there are some signs that this situation might finally be improving in physics.

Dr Hilary Leevers, Head of Education and Learning at the Wellcome Trust, commented: "We're delighted to see that the numbers of A levels in science and mathematics are continuing to rise. This should create a great basis for a future workforce able to work in high-tech and scientific industries, as well as bringing good mathematical and reasoning skills to other sectors and to daily life.

"We must not be complacent, though. The recent resurgence in the popularity of STEM subjects in the UK is needed to keep up with the levels of growth in similar high-income countries. We still have an unusually low level of students studying mathematics post-16, and efforts to increase this through a broader range of mathematics options should be supported.

"Today's results show rising interest in the Extended Project Qualification, up to 28,500 entries - this can provide an exciting opportunity for students to experience interdisciplinary research involving practical science.

"The increase in the popularity of mathematics and the sciences follows much investment in recruiting and training specialist teachers. It is vital that we sustain our efforts to make sure that every primary and secondary school has the science and mathematics teaching expertise that it needs. Many organisations have also worked to help students appreciate the richness of experience and opportunity that studying sciences can bring."