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More girls than ever taking STEM A levels, despite drop in overall entries

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​STEM subjects are gaining in popularity at A-level with a 1.9% increase in entrants, even though the overall number of entrants across all subjects fell. This means an additional 2073 female entrants in STEM subjects in 2017.

17 August 2017

There is a mixed message in terms of the number of girls studying A-level STEM subjects. While girls are dominant in Biology and Chemistry, approaching 40% in Maths, and there has been an increase in the number of girls taking physics, the picture is not so positive everywhere. Computing is in the spotlight this year with the greatest growth of entrants of any A level subject (up 33% since 2016) but girls still represent just 10% of entrants, and ICT has had a 20% drop in female students.

The widely publicised reforms to the syllabus and assessment of STEM A levels and headlines of “Boys helping to raise A level grades”1 are misleading. In physics, chemistry, biology, maths and further maths, girls continue to perform as well as or better than boys – demonstrating yet again that it is not a lack of ability that keeps girls from pursuing STEM subjects.

Unless we encourage more girls to take subjects such as physics and computing, there is a risk that girls will miss out on jobs of the future. Digital skills are becoming increasingly important– the recent Tech Nation 2017 report2 found that, in the UK, the digital economy is growing 50% faster than the wider economy with average salaries 44% higher. Girls must be supported and encouraged to take technology qualifications, such as Computing A level, so they don’t miss out on the well-paying jobs of the future.

Helen Wollaston, Chief Executive of WISE added that not only are girls missing out on well-paid careers, the UK has a major skills shortage in engineering and technology: “We need more girls helping us to solve the problems of the world. Encouraging a love of STEM from an early age is good for girls and is better for all of us.”

Research shows girls need to be engaged in these subjects by the age of ten in order to sustain their interest through their school career. Today WISE hosted a judging day at Eureka! in Halifax to find toys that spark girls interest the most. WISE believes toys could play a key part in nurturing girls’ enthusiasm from a young age, and have created the award category to find and promote the importance of imaginative toys for girls. The winning toy will receive the award at a ceremony in London this November, for more information about the event, click here.

WISE is also helping girls across the UK discover how taking STEM qualifications can open the door to a world of exciting and fulfilling careers. Our People Like Me resource helps girls see that they can be happy and successful in STEM careers, but we want to do more and have a greater impact. In order to reach 200,000 more girls and train 7000 more ambassadors by 2022, People Like Me is going digital in 2018 – and there are still opportunities to be involved with the project at different sponsorship levels. Join companies such as CA Technologies, our first Founding Sponsor, and make the difference for girls across the UK. There is tiered sponsorship available, please contact WISE Development Director, Dr Mhairi Crawford.

Stephanie Mitchell, Head of Industry Relation at UTC Reading has been using the People Like Me resource to make the difference at their centre “The headline data looks really promising and shows that we are moving in the right direction. It is pleasing to see STEM subjects growing in popularity, particularly with females. UTC Reading has been a keen advocate for raising the profile of women in STEM through our membership with WISE this year. The WISE "People Like Me" resource has been exceptional in engaging new and existing female students, in realising the potential that STEM careers can hold.”

  1. “Boys help to raise A level grades” BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-40952125
  2. Tech Nation 2017 Annual Report http://technation.techcityuk.com/

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