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Number of students taking A-level stem subjects falls

Ben Sampson

Lack of growth in subjects such as Maths and Physics needs to be addressed by education system, say experts


Less students are studying Stem subjects at A-Level, according to figures released today.

The A-level results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) show that 92,163 completed an A-level in Maths, down from 92,711 in 2015. Some 35,344 students completed Physics A-level, compared to 36,287 in 2015 and 12,477 achieved Design & Technology A-levels, compared to 13,240 in 2015. 

Although the falls are small, some pointed to it as evidence that the UK’s education system still requires realigning to technical and engineering qualifications to address the increasing need for engineers.

Peter Finegold, head of education and skills for the IMechE said: “We have to see year-on-year growth in these subjects for the benefit of the whole economy and also to maintain the graduate premium. It’s more important than ever at this time that we have homegrown engineering talent.”

The graduate premium is the higher wages a graduate earns after University. According to research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), graduates still enjoy higher earnings than non-graduates, but there are signs the “premium” will soon significantly fall.

Prof Will Stewart, vice president of the IET, said that more schools should offer the International Baccalaureate, which incorporates six subjects including Maths and a science, rather than the three subjects students typically opt for at A-level.

He said: “Sadly this year’s results show no increases in students studying subjects such as Maths, Physics and Design & Technology – which are the core subjects for an engineering degree and career.  If we don’t reverse this trend thousands of young people are effectively closing the door on an exciting, creative career as engineers. We are also at risk of stifling economic growth if we do not produce the future engineers we so critically need.”

Kieron Salter, managing director of consultancy KW Special Projects, said: “The UK has a huge deficit of engineers. The sector has the potential to contribute an additional £27 billion to the economy by 2022, but only if we can fill the 250,000 engineering vacancies needed to deliver on this potential in the same timeframe.”

“While in the short-term, we can continue to cast our recruitment net as wide as possible to include countries such as Greece, India, Poland and the USA, we also need to look to the long term. I think as a country we need to present maths and science to girls in a way that builds their confidence from an early age, so it is taken further in later education as a viable topic.”

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