Royal Society responds to A level results 2022

17 August 2022

Responding to the publication of today’s A level results, Professor Ulrike Tillmann, Chair of the Royal Society’s Education Committee, said:

“Congratulations to everyone receiving their A level results today. With the continued disruption from the pandemic and the return of exams for the first time since 2019, students have had to show incredible resilience and dedication. We must also recognise the hard work of teachers, parents and everyone who supported these young people throughout the last three years.

“The adjustment to grading as we recover from the pandemic means we cannot draw too many conclusions from the change in the proportion of top grades year on year. However, I welcome the continued popularity of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, including my own subject of mathematics – which remains the most popular subject at A level overall. 

“While biology continues to increase in popularity, there has been a slight drop in the proportion of entries to chemistry and physics. While small, the decline may indicate the continued challenge of retaining trained teachers in subjects like physics. We know the quality of teaching is a major factor in students’ likelihood to continue with this subject. This is particularly true for girls, who continue to be significantly underrepresented in physics, despite outperforming boys in the top grades. The Royal Society is calling for more funding and support for subject-specific continuing professional development (CPD) to help attract and retain specialist teachers in these vital subjects.

“The Society was involved in establishing the National Centre for Computing Education, and it is encouraging to see the subject continue to increase in popularity, with 15,693 entries this year, up nearly 14% from 2021 and more than 40% since 2019. But more needs to be done to address the disappointingly low numbers of girls taking the subject. 

“At the same time, all of us in the STEM sector should be concerned by the continued declines in the number of students taking arts and humanities subjects, like English literature and history. Alongside figures showing that students took an average of just 2.56 A levels last year, this highlights the way the current education system, and career-focused rhetoric from some senior figures, is narrowing horizons and shutting off options for our young people. The Royal Society wants to see all students take a broader range of subjects post-16, to ensure we have the creative, interdisciplinary thinkers who can bring their skills to bear in new scientific fields, creative disciplines and whatever they choose to pursue.

“While we should be cautious in interpreting the figures, it appears to be positive that Ucas has reported a narrowing of the gap between the most and least advantaged students gaining places on university courses this year. We must look closely at the detailed breakdown of A level outcomes by socioeconomic group, when they are published, to understand the full impact of the pandemic.”