Welcome rise in Leaving Certificate physics but it’s not enough

14 August 2013

A turn around for physics numbers but still a significant gender imbalance and almost a quarter of schools are still not offering physics at Leaving Cert level.

Welcome rise in Leaving Certificate Physics but it’s not enough

As the State Examinations Commission releases the results for the 2013 Leaving Certificate, the Institute of Physics (IOP) has welcomed the small increase in the number of students choosing to take the physics course.

The number of students has risen by just over 1% from 6373 in 2012 to 6448 in 2012, representing 11.6% of the total leaving certificate cohort of 55572 (up from 11.4% last year). The figures are an indication that the increased demand at third levels for science and engineering which has been noted over the past couple of years is possibly filtering down into school level and reverses a long standing decline of many years.

IOP has put significant resources into providing support for the teaching of physics through its teacher networks and also in the provision of accurate and engaging careers materials and had noted a significant increase in the demand for such material over the past year.

However concern has been expressed that nearly a quarter of second level schools across Ireland are not offering physics at Leaving Certificate level.

Dr Peter van der Burgt, Chair of the Institute of Physics in Ireland said, “Not only is physics a fascinating subject, qualifications in this area give students a real edge in competition for highly-sought after careers.  To deny the students of 23% of Irish schools the chance to study this highly valued subject runs counter to all government efforts to increase the uptake of physical sciences at third level which are seen as critical to the country’s economy.”

He noted that, “Physics-based businesses contribute more than €7bn annually to the Irish economy and directly employ over 86,000. In order to achieve a lasting turn around in the numbers taking physics, significant support must be given to schools who are under pressure to drop physics altogether as once the subject is gone from the school it is exceptionally difficult to bring it back.

“In England, the IOP, working in partnership with the government ,through its Stimulating Physics Network has brought about an almost 20% rise in the number of physics A-Level candidates over the past five years and physics is now in the top 10 most popular subjects on offer at A-Level."

Commenting on the continued gender imbalance of the entrants, he continued,  “To have girls making up only a quarter of the physics leaving certificate cohort, is a real loss to society and more importantly we can be sure that there are thousands of highly able girls in Ireland who are missing valuable opportunities.”