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A-level and highers results 2015

13 Aug 2015

Results day provides a mixed picture for STEM

A-level results are out today and the stats reveal all three core sciences have seen fewer students enter exams in 2015 despite overall entries rising compared to 2014. Maths however continues to extend its lead as the most popular subject.

Responding to today’s results, CaSE Acting Director, Naomi Weir, said:

“Many congratulations to students receiving results today, and to those who have taught and supported them. It is great to see that many young people are studying and succeeding in science and engineering subjects.

Developing maths, science and engineering skills opens up a wide range of future options to people from all walks of life. It would therefore be a major concern if the small declines in some of the sciences turn into downward trends in coming years. There is much work to do to ensure all young people have the opportunity to access quality support, education and advice as they take their next steps. The UK will need these talented young people to provide the skills needed to drive prosperity and innovation.”

Maths grows in popularity as other sciences lose favour

STEM subjects are more popular than ever before, accounting for 39% of all exams entered in 2015. STEM has been increasing its market share of A-levels for some time now.

However, for the first time since 2009, the number of students taking exams in the core sciences of biology, chemistry, and physics has dropped. Biology – the most popular of the three – saw its share of total exams entered fall to 7.4% from 7.7% in 2014. Chemistry fell from 6.4% to 6.2% and physics fell from 4.4% to 4.3%. Maths accounted for 10.9% of all exams entered, up from 10.7% in 2014. There were also slight rises in psychology, further maths, ICT, and computing.

More students are taking exams in STEM subjects than ever before, with over 33,000 STEM exams entered in 2015, up from 32,500 in 2014. The rise is largely due to more students taking maths (up 4%) but psychology and computing also saw modest increases. Fewer students entered exams for the core sciences than in 2014.

In particular it is encouraging to see the rise in the number of students now taking Computing A level – up 30% on last year following recent changes to the course.

Most STEM subjects becoming more gender-balanced

Of the STEM A-level exams, only chemistry has a near-50:50 boy girl balance for entrants. Biology and psychology both continued to become more unbalanced in favour of girls but physics and computing have increased the proportion of girls taking exams in these subjects, although they are still some way off being gender balanced. Only ICT and further maths have become more male-dominated in recent years.

Scottish Highers

Scottish students also got their results last week. We don’t have as much historical data for the Scottish Highers but between 2014 and 2015 there has been little change in proportions of students taking STEM subjects. In 2015 26% of all exam entries were for STEM subjects, around 52,000 entries, compared to 27% in 2014. All the main STEM subjects except computing decreased their share of total exam entries, although all by little more or less than one percentage point.