The Royal Society, one of Britain's leading scientific institutions, has declared A-Levels "not fit for purpose".
This conclusion stems from the fact that relatively few pupils deciding on the usual 3 A-Level subjects will choose to do a science or maths. Across the UK in 2009, 17% of 16 to 18-year-olds took one or more science A-level, or equivalent qualification, the report says. This compares unfavourably with Scotland, where pupils generally take 5 Highers and often spread their choice between the sciences and the arts.
The report says this difference indicated problems with the structure of post-16 qualifications provision and demonstrates an "underlying cultural indifference" towards the sciences and maths.
Other findings included a need for more specialist maths and science teachers and a broadening of the diversity of A-Level subjects.
The Royal Society is calling for the rapid introduction of an English Baccalaureate at A-Level, which would require students to take a spread of subjects, including maths and a science subject. A similar qualification has already been announced for GCSE level by education secretary Michael Gove. The government thinks this new qualification will drive up the take-up of maths and science at both pre- and post-16 levels.
A review of the A-Level system has already been promised, although so far there are few details of the shake-up. Gove previously announced a desire to return to more emphasis on a final examination, moving away from a modular system.
The Chair of the Royal Society's Education Committee, Professor Dame Athene Donald, said in the report that, at a time of economic uncertainty, it was deeply worrying to find maths and science numbers so low, when these specialities have such potential to revitalise the country's financial outlook.