This is the question asked by a Guardian
article of 17 July.
"Hundreds of schools and colleges in England are failing to enter any pupils for science and maths A-levels, official figures show.
"The data has been published by the Department for Education (DfE) for the first time as part of a government bid to encourage young people to take science and maths past the age of 16. It reveals the percentages of students at each school and college who are taking A-levels in these areas, seen as vital by ministers, partly due to increasing demand for workers with science, technology, engineering and maths skills.
"An analysis of the figures shows that 79 institutions entered no pupils for maths A-level in 2012-13 and a further 892 entered no pupils for further maths. No student took biology at 161 schools and colleges while at 217 none took chemistry and at 306 no pupils studied physics at A-level."
I can't yet prove this, but I am suggesting that 'school improvement' is the reason for this decline and that the link is with the explosion in the attainment of A*-C grades in GCSE maths driven by the marketisation of the education system.
Students quite rightly do not generally take A Level sciences without also taking A Level maths.
I know from my own research that in specific 'highly improved' schools, C grades in maths have been obtained at the expense of higher grades, especially B. They have also been achieved at the expense of E and D grades, but that is another equally important story.
I once had a telephone conversation with the head of one such highly improved school who told me that that getting a C grade at GCSE maths was best treated as 'a rite of passage' for young people, like passing the driving test. The driving test is a classic example of a criterion referenced exam where behaviourist teaching methods based on practise, repetition, memory and multiple entries work.
These are the same methods that unbanded entry, 'improved' schools with an intake deficit of able pupils, are forced to use for maths teaching in pursuit of 5ACEM, regardless of whether or not the Wolf criteria are applied, as in Henry's last post
I describe in more detail how these behaviourist cramming methods work here
Sue Johnstone-Wilder and Clare Lee have been working in this area for some years. This paper describes their approach and concerns.
Johnston-Wilder S & Lee C (2010), Developing mathematical resilience, BERA Annual Conference 2010, 1-4 Sep 2010, University of Warwick
You can read it here
Their work, like that of Guy Claxton is based on the ideas of 'learning resilience' and 'capacity for learning'. The former is all about the acceptance and expectation on the part of the learner that mistakes and failures are an essential, integral part of the process of 'deep learning', which as a consequence, is of a 'slow' (Kahneman System 2) nature, rather than 'fast' (Kahneman System 1).
See my post here
Developing 'Capacity for Learning', according to Guy Claxton, should be the aim of all schooling, rather than behaviourist remembering stuff and regurgitating it in crude recall-driven exams. You can read about Claxton's ideas here
Johnstone-Lee and Wilder, Claxton, Kahneman, the Eton College based 'slow education' movement and until the current domination in England of the education marketisation paradigm, virtually all mainstream learning theorists, are within the 'developmental' (think Piaget and Vygotsky) rather than the behaviourist (think Skinner) school.
To return to my hypothesis as to why A Level maths uptake is in decline, I am proposing that it is because the growth of mathematical understanding in school children requires very carefully designed developmental teaching programmes and skilful maths teachers with the requisite deep understanding of both their subject and how children can be helped to understand 'hard stuff'.
This is not what the 'heroic' and much currently celebrated champions of school improvement are about. Deep learning is not facilitated by extending KS4 back into years 8/9 and early/multiple GCSE maths entries.
The 'top twenty' schools in Henry's list are, as he points out, a mixed bunch. Not all of them are maths 'crammers'. I know that Mossbourne Academy is not, because I have past year's full subject-by-subject, grade-by-grade GCSE results. Without these it is impossible to tell how a school gets its 5ACEM. Mossbourne can achieve outstanding results without cramming because of the Hackney banded admissions system.
However, OfSTED should be making the critical judgements and should not be handing out 'outstanding' status to schools that put headline results before deep learning. The Trojan Horse issue shows that OfSTED can be 'blind' to issues it is not looking for.
OfSTED needs to be looking hard at the schools that fail to develop pupil's cognition sufficiently to enable and encourage take up of A level maths and sciences.