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“Significant drop” in top grades for GCSE science as entries rise

The number of pupils taking science at GCSE has increased by nearly four per cent – but overall science results have fallen, data released by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) shows.

The number of entries to science, additional science and further additional science this year increased by 7.5 per cent. More than 750,000 young people now take the qualifications.

However, fewer pupils are achieving top grades. There was a “significant drop” in A*s, down to 0.8 per cent from 1.4 per cent the previous year.

The proportion of pupils achieving an A*-C also fell from 59.1 per cent to just 56.7 per cent.

Numbers of pupils entered for three separate science papers fell by 2.6 per cent. JCQ said that despite the fall, it welcomed that the speed of decline had slowed. Last summer, triple science entries slumped by around 15 per cent for each subject – physics, biology and chemistry.

JCQ director Andrew Hall said that declines last year related to the move towards linear assessment.

He said: “There was clearly a concern at that stage that trend may continue and we would see further significant reductions in the single science take up this year as schools reacted to the burden of assessment and getting used to linear assessment.

“The good news is that hasn’t continued… the rapid decline has stopped and I think that is quite important.

“When you look at [the overall] science entry, that is up by 5.5 per cent and that will clearly house some of the students that were previously taking single sciences.”

Explaining possible causes for the drop in grades, Mr Hall said: “More noticeable is the quite significant drop in A* for those taking core science.

“We think that is an impact of the change in cohort coming through and more students taking those core science subjects.

“We think generally the issues and challenges we need to understand around science are in the entry patterns, rather than the outcomes.”

Craig Hewitt, head of science at a state school, said the grade decreases could reflect a greater focus on maths and English in schools due to accountability measures.

He said: “Science (sadly) just isn’t quite as significant in the current education climate. Science needs be a core focus in the same way as maths and English are – not the halfway house it currently sits in.

“A school focuses on maths and English – such as 1:1 intervention, more classes, smaller set sizes, booster “activities” – and all put a “this is the most important thing for you to worry about” flag on maths/English for students. As the only other core subject there is an impact.”

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