Maths on the march as entries at A-level hit an 'all-time high'

20th August 2010 at 01:00
Advanced version of qualification shows biggest increase of any subject, while overall pass rates across the UK reach new peak of 97.5 per cent

The resurgence of maths at A-level has continued apace with the most advanced version of the qualification showing the biggest increase in entries of any subject.

Numbers taking further maths rose by 11.5 per cent, while maths A-level entries were up by 6 per cent, meaning nearly 89,000 A-levels were awarded in the subjects.

Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI) said they were at "an all-time high", with the best entry levels since records began 20 years ago.

David Willetts, universities and science minister, said this month: "In terms of future career opportunities, A-level maths scores more highly than just about anything else."

A decade ago Curriculum 2000 reforms made A-level maths tougher, prompting a 19 per cent slump in entries.

Charlie Stripp, who has been promoting further maths in schools for MEI, took some of the credit for the turnaround, saying: "Five years ago, less than 40 per cent of the state-funded schools and colleges that offered A-level maths also had students taking A-level further maths. That figure is now over 60 per cent."

The boost came as economics, technology subjects, physics, biology, Spanish, psychology, chemistry and performing and expressive arts all saw a significant rise in entries. Professor Alan Smithers of Buckingham University, had predicted a growth in "traditional" subjects triggered by demands from top universities.

Critical thinking saw the biggest fall at A-level, with a 16.5 per cent drop in entries. Computing, law, "other modern languages", general studies, PE, music, communication studies, German and French came next in subjects losing popularity.

Across the UK, there was a continued rise in the A-level pass rate to 97.5 per cent; A grades to 27 per cent. But both measures are levelling off with passes up by just 0.1 percentage points, compared with last year's 0.3 point boost and A grades up by 0.3 percentage points compared with 0.8 in 2009.

They also mask differences between countries. England's pass rate matched the UK and had 8.1 per cent of A-levels gaining an A*.

Northern Ireland was once again the best performer, with 9.3 per cent of entries gaining the new top grade. But its pass rate dropped from 98.4 to 98.1 per cent. Wales saw a bigger drop in passes from 97.6 to 97.1 per cent, with just 6.5 per cent of A-levels given an A*.

Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, warned against accusations of "dumbing down" because of the overall rising pass rate.

"There is no evidence that this has happened," she said. "Denigrating the achievement of students seems to be a national sport and does nothing to reflect the immense achievement of young people and their teachers. With the shortage of university places and a job market severely affected by recession, this year's cohort of A-level students face a very difficult future. The least we can do is commend their undoubted achievements."

Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, claimed hundreds of thousands of students would miss out on university because of the Coalition's cuts. "The Government is in danger of betraying today's school and college leavers by cruelly snatching from them the opportunities for which they have worked so hard," she said.

Psyched up for study

Marie-Claire Murray ponders her forthcoming A-level results on Tuesday.

With hopes of becoming a psychologist, Marie-Claire needed three Bs to secure her place on the psychology and criminology course at Northumbria University.

"This course was the only one that really appealed to me," says the young hopeful who sat business studies, maths and biology exams in June.

"I'll probably do a PhD, so after seven years there'll be a lot of debt, but it's the only career for me."

This is the first year her school, Our Lady and St Patrick's College in Knock, Belfast, has made results available online.

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