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Sixth-forms and colleges to be judged by A-level maths and physics participation

School sixth-forms and colleges will be held to account by a new maths and physics measure, ministers will announce today, which will show the proportion of boys and girls studying the subjects at A-level.

The move has been introduced in a bid to boost the numbers of students taking these subjects, and will highlight areas of the country where take up of maths, further maths and physics is “unacceptably low”.

However, heads' leaders warned the introduction of "yet another" accountability measure could lead to more "unintended consequences". 

It comes just a week after education minister Elizabeth Truss warned that England’s school system was suffering from “science deserts”, particularly among girls.

According to the Department for Education’s figures, just 2 per cent of girls’ A-level entries are in physics, while just 8 per cent of girls’ entries at A-level are in maths.

The government wants to see more students studying maths and further maths, despite the subject being the second most popular A-level behind English. Physics is the eighth most popular choice among A-level students.

Ms Truss said the new measure will be similar to the Ebac, which has successfully increased the take up of science at GCSE since it was introduced in 2011.

“To carry that success through to A-level, we need the new maths and physics transparency measure to identify those areas where take up at A-level is unacceptably low.

“Parents, schools and businesses can then challenge the status quo while we target resources at the science deserts to transform them into science oases,” the minister added.

Figures showing the proportion of boys and girls taking A levels in maths, further maths or physics in 2012/13 will be published next month. From then on the statistics will be published every year at the same time as the secondary school and college performance tables, which will be released in January 2015.

But Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, urged caution about introducing such measures. 

"We know these are important subjects, and schools and colleges already work hard to increase the take up of them," Mr Lightman said.

"But further accountability measures always create unintended consequences and ASCL does not believe the curriculum should be driven by accountability system, but rather by good teaching and the needs of the learners." 

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