The rise and rise of A level maths

Provisional entries for exams for Summer 2024 show that maths continues to be the most popular A level, and its popularity continues to rise, faster than most subjects. With 101,230 entries (11.4% up on last year) it comfortably tops the table, with Pyscology (76,130 entries, down 2.4%) and Biology (69,045 entries, up 0.3%) in second and third places.

Further Maths is growing, with 17,420 entries this year, nearly 20% more than sat the exam last year. This growth is fantastic, but not without its challenges. Whilst the numbers, nationally, might be big, and getting bigger, in an individual school it may be only a few students choosing Further Maths, and I know that many HoDs have had to be creative in how they structure the delivery of the course.

A level entries by subject, Summer 2024 part i
A level entries by subject, Summer 2024 part ii

It should be noted that the cohort of 18 year olds is 1.2% greater than 2023, so a percentage change above this value suggests a subject is growing in popularity, below 1.2% represents a falling popularity.

AS Levels

It should come as no surprise to see that entries for AS levels continues to fall (in total, and for most subjects), although once again, Further Maths bucks this trend. I suspect (but have no data to back this up, this is just a hunch) that more students are embarking on studying Further Maths, but some/many are then perhaps finding it a “bridge too far” and opting to cash in with an AS level in Further Maths, alongside their A level Maths. On a very anecdotal level, I’ve always found it hard to call who will succeed on a Further Maths course, and who won’t (from, say, the same capable GCSE set I have taught.) In part, I think it is to do with attitude and interest – entering post-16 study, students begin to gain a better idea of what they really enjoy, and where they want their studies to take them, and if something “very mathematical” does not feature in their future plans, the commitment needed for Further Maths can be something sacrificed for success elsewhere.

AS level entries – Summer 2024

GCSE entries

Total GCSE entries have increased by 4.8% since 2023, but this should be set against 5.2% increase in 16 year olds, so we would expect numbers to grow. I am surprised to see that more students will be sitting Combined Science than Maths (with English Language in third place) – perhaps this is because the data is for GCSE and a significant number (of mainly Independent school students) will be sitting iGCSE Maths and not included in these figures? I don’t know, that’s just my theory, would love to find out for sure.

Here is the table of entries for the EBacc subjects:

GCSE entries (EBacc subjects) Summer 2024

And for the non-EBacc subjects:

GCSE entries (non-EBacc subjects) Summer 2024 i
GCSE entries (non-EBacc subjects) Summer 2024 ii

Maths, of course, is one of a handful of subjects that has tiered entry. This summer, 41% of maths entries are for the Higher Tier – this has been a consistent number ranging from 41% to 43% in the years 2020 to 2024. I am surprised by this, my sense was that more students took the higher tier (easier to gain a few elusive marks and hit the low grade boundary for a 4 on the Higher Tier than risk having to get more right than wrong on the Foundation Tier for the same level 4), but its not the first, and won’t be the last, time I’m wrong.

Tiers of entry Summer 2024

And the age of entry for GCSE is interesting, too. Post Year 11, only Maths and English are sat (re-takes), and only languages get taken early:

Entries by Year Group

All this data, and more, was taken from Ofqual’s provisional statistics for the summer 2024 exam series. You can find the information, and more here.

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