Responding to the publication of A level results today, Professor Ulrike Tillmann, chair of the Royal Society Education Committee, said:
“On behalf of the Royal Society, I would like to congratulate everyone receiving their A level results today. These results conclude two years of unprecedented disruption for young people and are testament to their hard work, and the support of their teachers and parents.
“There is plenty to celebrate in this year’s results. Notably, the proportion of female pupils achieving an A* in mathematics has exceeded the proportion of males for the first time. Maths remains the most popular subject at A level, and the Society is pleased to see how much young people value this subject.
“All three sciences have seen an increase in entries; by 6.9%, 7.4% and 7.6% for chemistry, physics, and biology respectively. There has also been another significant rise in the proportion of students studying computing at A level, increasing by 11.7% - a similar proportion to last year. These subject areas are at the heart of tackling some of the biggest challenges we face, from infectious diseases to climate change and biodiversity loss. Research commissioned by the Royal Society, and published today, suggests the pandemic has already been a factor in discussions with parents about future choices, and it is great to see more students recognise that scientific subjects bring insights and analytical skills which are valuable to employers and in daily life.
“Despite the success of female students in STEM subjects at A level, we continue to see significantly lower numbers of female entrants in areas like further mathematics, physics and computing. In computing, where the disparity is largest, there were just 2,031 female entrants compared to 11,798 who were male – but 25.7% of female students achieved an A* compared to 18.9% of boys. Highlighting the success of female pupils and women throughout STEM careers should be a priority for dispelling lingering myths that these are ‘boys subjects’. The Royal Society has long been a champion for increasing diversity in computing and will keep working to encourage more girls and other underrepresented groups into the subject.
“The Society is also concerned that we continue to see declines in the proportion of pupils taking some arts, humanities and language subjects – with the notable exception of geography this year. The post-16 curriculum leads to a drastic narrowing of students’ subject choices, and we should be looking urgently at whether this serves individual students, or wider society, as we move into the future. We need a broader education system that equips young people with the knowledge, creativity and interpersonal skills to thrive in the 21st century.
“We look forward to seeing the outcome of the Department for Education and Ofqual’s consultation on the next 12 months for the education sector.”