Leaving Certificate Physics results released

16 August 2017 | Source: Leaving Certificate Physics results released

Small drop in physics numbers, significant gender imbalance but large increase in students taking subject at the higher level

As the State Examinations Commission releases the results for the 2017 Leaving Certificate, the Institute of Physics (IOP) has noted a small decrease in the number of students having taken the physics course after steady rises over the previous five years.


The number of students has dropped by 2% from 7752 in 2016 to 7585 in 2017, representing 13.0% of the total leaving certificate cohort of 58543 compared with 13.3% in 2016. It is in contrast to the rise in the numbers taking chemistry, which increased by 4% and which now represents 16% of the leaving certificate group.


However, there has been a significant rise in the numbers taking physics at the higher level, up from 77% of the total number taking physics in 2016 to 83% in 2017. This is in common with many other subjects, reflecting changes in the grading bands.


The rise has been welcomed by the chair of IOP Ireland, Dr Mark Lang, who noted that “taking the subject at the higher level opens more doors at third level to explore options in science and engineering where there are good prospects for graduates”.


A recent IOP report on the importance of physics to the Irish economy indicated that physics-based sectors contribute €38 bn in gross value added, supporting the employment of 288,000 people. A person employed in an Irish physics-based industry contributes an average of €138,273 a year in value added.


Commenting on the gender of the physics entrants, he continued: “The uptake of physics by girls in Ireland remains stubbornly low at school level with only about a quarter of the Leaving Certificate cohort being female. This imbalance continues through all levels of study and into the wider workplace, representing a significant loss of science capital to the country and, on an individual level, indicating that many women are not fulfilling their potential in this area.”


A study of women in physics in Ireland was presented at the recent International Conference on Women in Physics in Birmingham organised by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics.


The team, which was led by Dr Yvonne Kavanagh from IT Carlow, while noting the continuing low female representation at school level commented on some positive developments around the position of women in physics in Ireland including a significant increase in the percentage of female physics postgraduate students (30% in 2016 compared with 19% in 2013) and the requirement from 2019 from funding agencies in Ireland that applicant colleges should have achieved at least the Bronze Award from the Athena Swan initiative.


Similar statistics to those in Ireland have been witnessed in the UK. In 2014, the IOP set out to improve these numbers in the UK by working intensively with six schools in London in a project which aimed to encourage more girls to choose to take A-level physics. Between 2013 and 2015, the number of girls choosing to take physics in the six schools increased from 12 to 52, changing the representation of females in these classrooms from 10% to 27%.


The IOP Improving Gender Balance project has now been extended to Ireland with Science Foundation Ireland funding a pilot project with six schools through the Centre for the Advancement of STEM Teaching and Learning, Dublin City University, led by Dr Eilish McLoughlin.

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