There has been a resurgence of interest in science and maths subjects at A-level with a “stonking” rise in entries, exam boards said today.
Over the past five years, maths exam entries have risen by 40.2%, making it one of the most successful subjects chosen by students.
A total of 82,995 took the subject this year, with an additional 12,287 taking further mathematics - a rise of 7.4% from last year. In the science field, chemistry entries saw the biggest rise, of 9.2% from last year, with biology entries up 7.2% and physics up by 6.1%.
Andrew Hall, chief executive of exam awarding body AQA said there was an “absolutely astonishing increase” in science and maths subjects. He added: "The stonking increase in maths and science over the last five years is the most significant thing we have seen in this set of results.”
Ziggy Liaquat, managing director of Edexcel, referred to the increasing presence of science and maths in popular culture and added: “It could be the Brian Cox effect. It could be as simple as that.”
Physicist Professor Cox, presenter of Wonders of the Universe, said today he believed there had been a “step change” in the public's opinion of science. He said: “I go to schools and I see and hear there are a lot of kids, girls as well as boys, interested in science and engineering.
“This is the message, that these subjects are great things to do - for the individual it's great because there is a shortage of scientists and engineers, but it's also great for the country, because our country needs these people to improve our economy in the 21st century.”
Professor Cox said the government now needed to seize the opportunity and implement a national science and engineering strategy. He said: “I think the government now, the ball is in their court. The media, professional bodies, universities and teachers are trying hard and have made a difference, but now the government has got to seize the moment.
“What we've done is change the image of science. Not completely, but we've made a good start.
“Now we need a national strategy to make Britain the best place in the world to do science and engineering.”
Liaquat pointed to the beginning of the financial downturn as the impetus for students to choose to study science and maths.
He said: “When these students would have made their choices two years ago, it would have been at the very beginning of the global economic downturn, when businesses were crying out for students and young people to have skills in science, engineering and maths.
“What we are seeing today is the outcome of those choices. Students are making far more informed choices on what's going to give them success in terms of jobs, university and meeting the needs of the economy, which we all know has to compete in a global marketplace. That's a really positive message from today.”
Jim Sinclair, director of the Joint Council for Qualifications, said the science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects had risen significantly, and added: “The increase in the number of students taking maths and the sciences suggest that young people are listening to the repeated calls from industry for more people to study the Stem subjects.”