A-level #resultsday: Hurrah! STEM subjects are up…but what about that gender gap?

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The talk of the office this morning has of course been A-levels. My colleagues and I have been reminiscing about the day we opened those big brown envelopes and have been comparing subject choices and grades (I won't go into mine now!) So what are the scores on the doors?

What story has the media gone with?

The big headline has been that the number of A* - B passes have dipped – falling to 52.4% from 52.9% in 2014. A minor dip I would say and nothing much to write home about.

It's not just about A, so what has happened with the S.T.E.M?

As we have blogged in previous years it's not just about the A, but it's also about the take up of S.T.E.M also known as the sciences, technology, engineering and maths. With more and more vacancies to fill, manufacturers will be breathing a sigh of relief that the take up of STEM subjects at increased for the 5th year in a row (Chart 1 below).

Chart 1: Numbers of students taking chemistry, physics, biology and maths A-levels

Without a doubt, students who have achieved top grades in these subjects have significantly boosted their employability and their chances of enjoying a successful and sustainable career.

What about that STEM gender gap?

Unfortunately, the overall increase in the take-up of STEM subjects disguises a mixed bag. Having looked through the data, I can announce (with genuine delight!) that the number of girls studying physics has increased by 4.7% year-on-year. However, with the number of boys studying physics also increasing, the gap between the two has in fact widened. (Chart 2 below).

Chart 2: Number of pupils taking A-level physics by gender

Disappointingly the number of girls taking maths has fallen, albeit slightly. Some respite can be taken from the fact that the number of girls taking further maths has increased, balancing out the figures slightly.

Is there more to do about the gender divide?

Absolutely. Whilst we are happy to report the increase in girls study physics, we cannot become complacent. Instead, we need to build on this momentum, with a concerted effort between government, industry and the education sector to also close this yawning gender divide.

How can this be achieved? Over a third of students say they received poor careers provision relating to A-level choices and careers. Therefore we must radically overhaul careers provision so that every student – male or female - understands the impact A-level subject choices can have on their future career and is fully aware of the opportunities for those who choose wisely.

What's in it for those that choose wisely and were successful today?

In short – a prosperous career in manufacturing.

A job in an industry where the average engineering apprentice earns over £7 per hour just to train and where the average engineering graduates earns a fifth more than all over graduates. So whether those opening their A-levels today decide to progress down a vocational or academic pathway – a career in manufacturing is always in reach.


Head of Education & Skills Policy

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