Combined science GCSEs are denying deprived pupils careers in medicine, BMA warns

Young people in some of England’s most deprived areas are being denied careers in medicine because schools are not giving them the opportunity to study separate sciences at GCSE, according to the British Medical Association.

The doctors’ union is calling on all secondary schools to offer triple science – separate GCSEs in biology, chemistry and physics – as it is the academic option favoured by the majority of medical schools.

It is concerned that 80 per cent of UK medical students come from just 20 per cent of the country’s schools.

British Medical Association (BMA) analysis has found that fewer schools in deprived areas offer the three sciences separately at GCSE, and lower numbers of pupils study the qualifications at schools that do.

For example in Knowsley, Merseyside – an area with a high level of deprivation – it found only just more than half (57.1 per cent) of the schools offer triple science, and only one in 10 students (11.4 per cent) study it.

In contrast, it found that in Rutland, a more affluent area, all schools offer the separate subjects and more than a third of pupils (36.2 per cent) have taken them up.

The BMA’s call for change comes after particle physicist and TV presenter Professor Brian Cox used a TES interview to call for a shift back to the individual science GCSEs as part of a drive to give the whole population a deeper understanding of science.

The doctors’ union wants medical schools to use contextualised admissions, where universities consider additional information including further details about the applicant’s school, and the area they grew up in.

It also suggests that medical schools work with local secondary schools to identify student potential and provide students with access to courses and outreach schemes.

Charlie Bell, the BMA’s Medical Students Committee co-chair, said: “The chance of becoming a doctor should not be limited because of the failure of some schools to offer the qualifications that pupils need to apply for medical school – and the failure of universities to alter grade requirements accordingly.

“All secondary schools should facilitate the triple science GCSE for those who request it.

“At a time when the government’s decision to scrap educational maintenance grants will create further barriers to low-income students becoming doctors, it is vital that young people who wish to pursue medicine must be encouraged and supported, whatever their background.”

Philip Smith, a gastroenterologist from London, was educated at an under-resourced comprehensive in Rochdale.

He said: “My school never had anybody interested in doing medicine – it was all very much a voyage of discovery for me and my mum and dad.

“As a doctor you have to be able to relate to people from all spectrums of life. If you just take doctors from one tier of society, they won’t have a concept of what life is like for people who aren’t from a privileged background.”

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