‘Attenborough effect’ behind jump in science popularity


A spike in the popularity of science subjects at GCSE level is being attributed to the ‘Attenborough effect’, the vice president of Pearson has suggested.

The term refers to young people who want to make a difference in the world, with Derek Richardson saying it has fuelled a jump in the popularity of science.

Nearly 768,000 pupils took the science double award in England in 2019, a jump of 5.1% from the 730,590 who completed the exams a year previously.

According to Mr Richardson, the work of broadcaster and natural historian Sir David Attenborough is influencing pupils across the country.

“We know that young people are increasingly concerned about the world around them and want to make a difference,” he explained.

“The ‘Attenborough effect’ is fuelling an interest in science, and young people are focusing their studies towards the world of work where there’s an increasing demand for STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers.”

Pupils are increasingly looking to societal issues when picking both GCSE and A-Level subjects, with the uncertainty around Brexit being linked to a surge in pupils wanting to study politics at A-level.

Mr Richardson said a 10% jump in the number of pupils studying politics can be tied into the continuing uncertainty, while several other humanities subjects have also seen an increase.

Some 7.5% of pupils taking the double science award achieved a 7 or above (the equivalent of an A in old terms), with 55.5% of pupils achieving a grade 4 (or C equivalent) – both figures represent an increase from 12 months ago, jumping from 0.2% and 0.8% respectively.

The attainment gap between boys and girls continued to narrow in chemistry after the latest results, while girls continue to outperform boys in biology and vice-versa in physics.