Gender gap still an issue despite STEM boost in A-levels

Posted on 14 Aug 2014 by Callum Bentley

Today’s A-level results show a welcome increase in the take-up of STEM subjects, although the gender gap still remains a concern.

While participants in STEM subjects did increase, the overall A-level pass rate dropped for the first time in 30 years. Exam board chiefs have admitted that the increase in STEM subjects, including more difficult and technical subjects, more than likely effected the number of passes as more students opted for these subjects to increase their career offerings.

EEF education policy advisor Verity O’Keefe said manufacturers would be “breathing a sigh of relief” after STEM subject participants rose for the 5th year in a row.

“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,” she said.

However, O’Keefe is claiming a “mixed bag” in the results, claiming that while the number of girls taking up STEM subjects is increasing, there is still a significant gap between them and their male counterparts.

“While we welcome the fact that the number of girls studying physics has increased by 4.7% year-on-year there is still a significant gap between the number of boys taking this subject compared to girls,” she said. “We’re heading in the right direction, but we need a concerted effort between government, industry and the education sector to continue driving students into STEM, but to also close this yawning gender gap.

“The major focus must be on radically overhauling 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.”

CBI director general John Cridland said that while it was encouraging to see the gender imbalance closing in typically male-dominated subjects like physics, the fact that computing – a subject becoming more crucial to the manufacturing and engineering industries – still very much appeared to be “a closed shop to young women” needed to be addressed.

“Computing skills are essential in a modern economy with employers crying out for more people with higher level digital skills, so the boost in entries is great news,” he said. “But the fact that only 7.5% of candidates are female shows that computing is still seen as a closed shop to young women, so we need action now to address this. We’re seeing some progress on gender balance in other traditionally male-dominated subjects like physics, so it can be done.

“Growth and jobs in the future will depend on closing our yawning skills gap and the UK having a workforce that can exploit new technologies, so it’s great to see entries up in the sciences, and maths now the number one A-level choice, reflecting our call for more students to study maths up to 18.

“Highly-skilled workers are essential for our growth sectors so these qualifications carry a real premium with employers. It will be those young people with science and maths qualifications who go on to become engineers and new tech entrepreneurs in the future.”