Numbers taking single science GCSEs falls after years of increases

The Press Association (via the Mail) is reporting that a bid to encourage teenagers to study traditional academic subjects may have inadvertently resulted in fewer youngsters taking GCSEs in the separate sciences…

Figures show that exam entries for biology, chemistry and physics have fallen this year, after years of increases.

This decline could be an “unintended consequence” of the English Baccalaureate – a measure introduced by the government in 2010 which recognises youngsters who gain at least a C grade in a range of academic subjects at GCSE, according to Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment research at Buckingham University.

The Department for Education insisted that there were no evidence that an apparent decline in entries to single sciences was down to the Ebacc.

To pass the science part of the Ebacc, teenagers need to score a C or higher in core science GCSE and additional science GCSE, get A*-C passes in double science or take three separate science GCSEs out of biology, chemistry, physics and computer science, and gain at least a C in two of them.

Statistics published by the exams regulator Ofqual earlier this year showed that as of April, biology entries for Year 11 students were down 12% to 128,000, chemistry was down 11% to 130,000 and physics entries were down 9% to 132,000. But entries for GCSE Science were up 32% to 152,000 and additional science entries were up 18% to 297,000.

Prof Smithers said that these falls reverse growth in the separate sciences that have been seen since around 2006, when then Chancellor Gordon Brown introduced a new initiative which gave schools incentives to offer separate science GCSEs.

“There’s a move back to overall science,” he said. “Why is this? I think it is probably an unintended consequence of the English baccalaureate.

“The rules for the EBacc in relation to science are you can submit two separate sciences but students have to have been entered for all three at GCSE.”

Prof Smithers added: “An easier way for schools to enter with the Ebacc is to enter for science and additional science.”

He warned that the dip could have a knock-on effect and “pull the ladder away” from subjects like A-level physics, if youngsters do not take a GCSE in the subject. Fresh figures on entries to each subject will be published on Thursday, when hundreds of thousands of teenagers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive their GCSE results…

More at: Numbers fall in separate sciences


Does the EBacc explanation from Professor Smithers make sense? Has your/your child’s school moved away from triple (or individual) science to a core/additional science combination? If this results in less science overall being studied (two modules per discipline instead of three) is that a serious concern? Please share in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove ‘This decline could be an “unintended consequence” of the EBacc’ – an accusation that could be levelled at most govt policy

  2. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove The failure of politicians in all recent govts to actually consider the consequences of their policies is leading to carnage

  3. MrsTwentyTom

    SchoolsImprove with so many good science teachers leaving the quality of teaching in science is being impacted. Students vote with feet.

  4. LeicesterHigh

    SchoolsImprove We teach the 3 sciences separately from Y7 & offer all 3 at GCSE. Sciences are the most popular A levels. #girlsschoolswork

  5. ded2je

    LindaRussell28 DUpton2 SchoolsImprove it’s quite a dramatic fall. I would think some of it is down to courses going linear

  6. Roussel_Capra

    DrDav hrogerson SchoolsImprove why wouldnt schools change? Why make students take 3 full-on exams at the end of 2-years? #GoveNonsense

  7. DrDav

    MesmaUK SchoolsImprove Ebacc limits kids choice, 3 sciences limits it further and has limited obvious benefit for school/kid.

  8. This is not news: it is a natural consequence.  Every time there is a change in the way schools are assessed, this induces a change in the subjects students study, with schools trying to maximise their showing on the new measure.
    Count GCSE equivalent grades and more take Btecs, Make MFL non-compulsory, and numbers fall.  Put MFL in the Ebacc and, hey presto, numbers rise.
    Government will be on a never-ending journey as they try to create new measures to avoid these evolutionary adaptations.  There can, however, never be a system which does not change what it tries to measure.

  9. stmarthas_head

    SchoolsImprove at St Martha’s we teach all 3 separately from Year 7 with specialists from GCSE! Helps those who want to study at A Level

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