Girls outperform boys in STEM subjects

5 July 2013
By Edd Gent
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New figures released today have questioned the assumption that science, maths and engineering are boys' subjects

New figures released today have questioned the assumption that science, maths and engineering are boys' subjects

Girls are outperforming boys in maths and science, but more need to be encouraged to study the subjects, it has been suggested.

New data shows that although more boys take vocational qualifications in subjects such as IT and engineering, their female classmates get higher results.

The statistics, published by the Pearson education company, show that almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of pupils who take a BTEC qualification in IT at level 2, which is equivalent to GCSE level, and more than eight in 10 (82 per cent) of those who take the same course at level 3, equivalent to A Levels, are boys.

However, nearly a third (31 per cent) of girls gained a distinction in a level 2 BTEC IT this year, compared to a fifth (21 per cent) of boys. This pattern is repeated at level 3, with 15 per cent of girls getting the highest possible grade compared to 12 per cent of their male peers.

The statistics also show that 5 per cent of students taking a level 2 engineering BTEC and 4 per cent of those taking the level 3 qualification are girls, but 37 per cent of girls at level 2 gained a distinction this year, compared to 20 per cent of boys, and 14 per cent of those studying at level 3 gained the highest award compared to 9 per cent of boys.

Rod Bristow, president of Pearson UK said: "In uncertain economic times, students have been shifting towards the subjects that provide the greatest employment opportunities.

"We know STEM skills are crucial to the high skills economy we will need in the future. Too often these are seen as 'boys' subjects'; today's figures show that, when girls do sign up to these vital subjects, they flourish."

The figures also show girls are out-performing their male colleagues in science, and while more girls are choosing to study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), experts have warned that low numbers were going on to study these subjects at university and to have careers in these areas.

The figures come just weeks after business leaders warned the UK was facing a ''critical'' lack of skilled workers as firms struggled to recruit suitably-qualified staff.

A survey conducted by the CBI of almost 300 companies found that nearly half lacked confidence in being able to take on high-skilled workers, especially in manufacturing, construction and engineering.

The Commons science and technology select committee has recently announced its own enquiry into women in academic STEM careers.

Committee chair Andrew Miller, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, said: "It is really good news that girls are doing well in science, the first step had to be getting away from the perception that science is a boys subject.

"I would like to find out why girls with science qualifications are not following through into STEM careers. This is not a matter of seeking a gender balance in science but to ensure that we are getting the fullest use of available talent in what is going to become an increasingly technology and science-based economy."

Helen Wollaston, director of WISE, (Women into Science and Engineering) said: "The key message that WISE want to get across is that these results prove that girls can do science, IT and engineering; in fact, those that choose these subjects do better than boys.

"At a time when UK industry is crying out for more people with STEM qualifications, we have to get more of this female talent into the workforce."

Charlotte Vere, executive director of the Girls' Schools Association (GSA), said: "We know that girls perform well in STEM subjects; in GSA girls' schools, 63 per cent of sixth form girls study at least one STEM subject and 59 per cent achieve the highest grades.

"The challenge in co-ed schools is creating a learning environment in which girls feel more comfortable studying these subjects in the first place.

"The 'gender gap' lies not in the level of success but in the numbers in class. Research shows that girls are four times more likely to study physics at an independent girls' school than in a co-ed state school; this can't be right."

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