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Students choosing STEM A-levels increase, but top grades dip

Kayleigh Bateman

The number of students choosing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at A-level has risen, but top grades for the qualification have dipped for a second year, according to figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications.

This year's A-level results revealed biology, chemistry and physics accounted for 17.8% of entries, up from 17% last year and 15% in 2009. Maths and further maths also saw an increase, with 12% taking the exams this year, up from 11.5% last year and 9.8% five years ago. There were 24,000 more entries for science this year, compared with 2009, and nearly 19,000 more for maths.

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However, IT-related student numbers continued to fall - down 0.4% for computing A-level, and 1.1% down for ICT. Earlier this year, the government announced plans for a new GCSE computing curriculum, with the aim of reversing the continued decline in students studying the topic at all levels. 

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the OCR exam board, said students are becoming more savvy about the choices they make at A-level in relation to their preferred career path.

"We are seeing choices are often influenced by the degree they want to do and job they want to do. The universities are being very transparent about what they expect – it's not just the grades, it's the type of subject they expect students to take; and it's employers saying 'this is the degree we're looking at'," he said.

David Youdan, executive director of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, said: "The growth in the number of students taking A-level mathematics and further mathematics is a real success story. More young people are better equipped to study a wide range of mathematics-rich subjects at university because they have taken further mathematics."

However, A-level top grades decreased overall, with 26.3% of entries scoring A or A* grades, compared with 26.6% last year.

Those awarded the A* grade dropped from 7.9% to 7.6% in 2013, but the overall A*-E pass rate rose by 0.1% to 98.1%.


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