23 February, 2020

A shifting gender balance?

26 September, 2018

It’s fair to say that, historically, STEM subjects (including: physics, maths, further maths, chemistry, computing, ICT, design and technology and other sciences) have predominantly been the domain of male students, many of whom went on to enjoy secure and professionally rewarding careers in their chosen fields. However, it is encouraging to see that this gender imbalance would appear to be moving in a direction of greater parity. According to analysis by Leeds based non-profit community interest company, WISE, of the 2018 A level results, the popularity of core STEM subjects at A level is soaring, especially among girls.

Despite the overall number of A Level entries across all subjects falling, there has been a 4% increase in girls taking STEM subjects, meaning over 5000 more girls are taking STEM, compared to an increase of only 0.65% for boys. Computing A level was taken by 48% more girls in 2018 than in 2017. However, there is a significant drop in the number of students taking ICT A level as it begins to be phased out; 29% fewer girls completed ICT A Level than in 2017.

Helen Wollaston, WISE CEO said: “This trend is really encouraging. We know that there is a huge drop off for girls who take STEM subjects past the age of 16, and we hope these results show that is changing. We want to ensure this trend continues, and our proven People Like Me training encourages girls to think differently about STEM and challenges perceptions.” WISE is encouraged to see growth in the number of girls taking physics, maths, further maths, chemistry and most notably computing. The number of girls taking computing has increased by 48% since 2017, increasing the representation of girls taking computing to 12%. Both the proportion of girls taking physics and further maths has remained static at 22% and 28% respectively.

Wollaston added: “While the overall increase is good news, we must not get complacent; there is still plenty of work to be done as these are key subjects for students wishing to pursue further qualifications in engineering and technology.” As in 2017, girls are more positively represented in chemistry, maths and design & technology; representing 53%, 39% and 37% respectively. In both maths and further maths, there was an increase of 3% in the number of girls taking the subjects, while there was an increase of 7% in both physics and chemistry.

As Wollaston points out, girls continue to achieve equivalent, or better, A* and A results than boys in all STEM subjects, except chemistry, proving that it’s not a lack of ability that is holding girls back from studying these subjects.

With a prevailing wind, the gender imbalance vis-à-vis STEM subjects will continue to become increasingly less pronounced. Only time will tell, but it looks as if the right course is being charted.

Ed Holden


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