Twenty First Century Science and progression to science A-levels

This project was a detailed analysis of the relationship between participation in GCSE Twenty First Century Science (21CS) and student progression to science A levels. 

Twenty First Century Science aims to provide scientific literacy for all students, as well as solid preparation for further science study for those that will continue to A level. It was developed by the Nuffield Foundation in partnership with the University of York Science Education Group, published by Oxford University Press and awarded by OCR. The Salters' Institute and the Wellcome Trust also contributed funding to its development.  

Commissioned by the Foundation, Dr Matt Homer and Professor Jim Ryder of the University of Leeds examined the impact of 21CS on A level progression using data from 3,000 schools and two cohorts of students.

Key findings
  • There were slightly higher rates of progression from 21CS in the first cohort but in the second there was no difference in overall progression to post-compulsory science courses between students following 21CS and non-21CS science courses.
  • However there were some small effects within cohorts. For example girls who studied 21CS were slightly more likely to complete A level sciences than those who had studied a different GCSE science course, but for boys, this effect was reversed. And students with Dual Award 21CS were more likely to progress to A level biology than their non-21CS counterparts, but less likely to go on to study physics. These differences, whilst statistically significant, were very small.

These findings appear to contradict those from an initial survey, published in 2010, which reported a significant increase in the number of students progressing to AS levels in science following the introduction of 21CS. That survey was relatively small, involving 155 schools, and relied on teacher-reports of progression to AS level. This study is much larger, using National Pupil Database (NPD) data from over 3,000 schools. It also uses data from two cohorts, which wasn’t available in the earlier study, and compares A level completion data between 21CS and non-21CS groups, rather than comparing progression to AS level for pre- and post-21CS cohorts.

Project details



Dr Matt Homer and Professor Jim Ryder, University of Leeds

Funding programme:


Grant amount and duration:


1 May 2011 – 31 August 2013