Alarming drop in N. Ireland physics numbers at A-level

17 August 2017 | Source: Alarming drop in N. Ireland physics numbers at A-level

As students across the UK receive their A-level results the Institute of Physics in Ireland has expressed concern that in Northern Ireland the number of students taking physics at A-level has dropped for the fourth year in a row.

The number of NI physics students has decreased by almost 9% from 1414 in 2016 to 1293 in 2017. This is in contrast with the UK, as a whole, where the numbers taking physics have increased this year by 3.5% on 2016, reversing the decline of the previous two years. Overall since 2013 the numbers taking the subject in Northern Ireland have declined by 18%.


It paints a significantly different picture from the situation in the Republic of Ireland. Yesterday’s release of the Leaving Certificate results showed physics numbers have increased by almost 18% in the same period despite a small drop this year.


On a more positive note while the total number of girls taking the subject has dropped this year from 383 in 2016 to 368, the female proportion has increased slightly although they still only make up just 28% of the cohort studying the subject at A-level though this is significantly better than across the UK as a whole where they only comprise 21.5%.


Dr Mark Lang, Chair of the Institute of Physics in Ireland commented,


“The situation regarding the decline in physics in Northern Ireland is shocking and requires substantial action at government level to address this, perhaps by way of the establishment of a taskforce to urgently implement the full recommendations from reports such as the 2009 Report of the STEM Review.


He continued, “In Northern Ireland, around half of schools don’t have any students studying the subject at all.” He noted that during the recent Assembly elections, IOP had called for a review to identify and tackle the barriers to physics becoming a realistic option to pursue at A-level for all students. He also suggested “a review of the primary curriculum and an exploration of ways to re-introduce a separate science subject into primary schools.”


A recent report from the Institute of Physics calculated that physics business brings in over £3.2 bn to the economy in Northern Ireland and employs over 59,000 people.


Dr Lang noted that any increase in activity in this area requires people with the critical skills from physics. “If Northern Ireland is to turn around its economy it urgently needs a functioning government who will address the widening skills gap in this area.”



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