It’s been a busy week for the UK education sector, with students’ receiving their A-level results on Tuesday (10 August), and today (12 August) marking GCSE results day for young people across the country. While generally, STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects have seen great results this year, concerns are on the rise as figures show girls’ interest is declining in computing.
According to the latest data, the number of young women taking on the subject at GCSE has dropped for the second year in a row – from 21.65% in 2020 to 20.7% this year. Many now fear for the impact this could have in terms of the subject’s gender gap increasing.
Despite this, computing saw an increase (1.92%) in the number of students pursuing the discipline overall, with a 0.94% rise in the total number of students taking exams in the subject this year. A silver lining with regards to the complex matter of data is that, while there has been a decline in the number of female enrolments compared to 2020, girls have still outperformed their male peers in the top two grade bands 9-7(A) and 6-4(C).
When it comes to other STEM subjects, however, female participation has generally increased, including in physics (5.02%), biology (4.18%) and chemistry (4.86%). Conversely to computing, the STEM gender gap appears to be rapidly closing, with girls now making up over half (50.27%) of the total number of students pursuing the three key science exams.
Things aren’t quite so clear cut when it comes to maths, with the subject seeing a decrease (0.08%) in the number of girls taking part, while the discipline’s more rigorous further maths branch saw growth (8.88%) in female participation.
Engineering, it seems, is still struggling to shake off its reputation for being more boy-suited subject, with girls comprising just 13.93% of this year’s cohort – a decrease of 11.44% from last year.
Agata Nowakowska, area VP EMEA at Skillsoft, commented: “GCSE results day is the pinnacle event on the school calendar. This year, with lockdowns, homeschooling and the scrapping of exams, it’s been a tumultuous time – one that many students will not forgot.
“Following on from the A-level results earlier this week, it’s disappointing to see that the number of girls taking GCSE computing and engineering has decreased this year. There are so many programmes aimed at getting girls interested in these areas, but we need to go further to challenge and eradicate the old fashioned views that are clearly still very much ingrained in the public consciousness.”