In this post I would like to share with you a decade’s worth of data showing the number of school sixth forms (and number of students studying at them) which don’t have any entries to each of the facilitating subjects.
In 2005 there were more school sixth forms with no entries to further maths than there were with no entries to French. But things have changed drastically over the past 10 years: there are now almost twice as many school sixth forms with no entries to French than there are with no entries to further maths.
The graph below (which is effectively the same as the one above with further maths and French removed) could warrant some concern for geography and English literature. For the other subjects, however, the period hasn’t seen obviously concerning developments.
The proportion of students studying at school sixth forms that have no entries to further maths has reduced by 67% over the last decade, while for French the proportion has increased by 22%.
The proportion of students studying at school sixth forms that have no entries to geography and English literature has diverged from the proportion with no entries to each of the other facilitating subjects over the last 10 years.
Further maths and French were the stand-out movers in the past decade, so maybe we can learn a few things from them. In 2003, maths had all-time-low A-level participation figures, after a long-term decline beginning in the 1980s. A couple of years before this participation low-point, Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI) embarked on a project funded by the Gatsby Foundation which set out to (among other things) ensure all students who could benefit from studying further maths would have access to it. The project used alternative models for delivering further maths, which included project tutors based at Further Mathematics Lead Centres and online resources and resources.
It would be reasonable to suggest that access to further maths has significantly increased since 2005, given that the proportion of the country’s school sixth forms that had no entries to it AS- or A-level has reduced by 46%.
Access is one of the main concerns when we think of school sixth forms with no entries to subjects. And when I looked at whether or not the school sixth forms which had no physics entries were offering the subject, more than two thirds of those for which we could get information didn’t offer. That conclusively tells us that access is denied for students who studied there.
However, the methods which have been employed to improve access to further maths over the last decade are not ones which I believe should be rolled out for any of the science subjects. Having a specialist physics teacher prior to making post-16 subject choices has been shown to be increase the likelihood that students would go on to choose physics (although new research in this area is needed). If the external project tutor model from further maths was applied to biology, chemistry or physics, this could be seen to by schools to remove the need for specialist teachers for these subjects. And any loss of specialist science teachers could in turn diminish students learning experiences up to 16, negatively affecting progression to A-level.
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