Gender divide is growing at A-level

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The release of exam results across the UK has revealed a marked difference between the number of male and female students taking maths and physics at A-level, revealing a growing gender divide opening up in schools, reports The Independent.

Figures show four out of five (79.3 per cent) physics entries were from boys - up 3.8 percentage points from last year -- while nearly three-quarters of English entries (71.8 per cent) were from girls - 2.3 percentage points up on 2012. In maths, 60.1 per cent of the entries were from boys - up 3.9 percentage points on last year.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) warns that economic prosperity could be at risk if more students, particularly women, do not study and successfully complete these key subjects.

The increasing divide - which coincides with boys increasing their lead over girls in the number of A* grades awarded - should be of concern to ministers, according to headteachers and teachers' leaders.

Jayne Hall, IET Policy advisor, said: “It is vital that we encourage more students, particularly females, to study these key enabling subjects. Currently, female students effectively rule themselves out of an engineering career at age 14 by not studying maths and physics. We must change this so that students can make informed subject choices.”

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "I think teachers are only too well aware that this stereotyping exists.  We need to see role models of people who are doing different things in schools.

"We need very good female role models of engineers and scientists to go and talk to students - and we need those who have made a success out of English to go and talk to boys."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers' union, added: "This is an issue that the Government cannot ignore as it could have serious ramifications for the future education and employment options for boys and girls."

Concern over the subject gender divide coincided ith boys surging to a record lead in the number of A* grades awarded yesterday - the day nearly = 300,000 teenagers received their A-level results.

They increased the lead they had established over girls for the first time last year - with 7.9 per cent of their papers being awarded the top grade pass compared to 7.4 per cent for girls.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Studies at Buckingham University, said the boys' lead in top grade passes had only emerged after the introduction of the A* at A-level three years ago.

"Boys' performance tends to spread more widely - more boys tend to get to the very highest levels whereas girls' results tend to bunch more about the average."

A level overall results showed a slight dip in performance at A* grade for the second year running - thought by academics to be caused by the increase in  candidates opting for maths and science subjects and shunning courses like media studies and PE.

The percentage of A* and A grade passes fell by 0.3 percentage points  to 26.3 per cent - although the overall pass rate went up by 0.1 percentage points to 98.1 per cent.

The numbers taking maths and science subjects soared, the results showed.  This year science accounted for 17.8 per cent of all entries compared with 17 per cent in 2012 and maths rose from 11.5 per cent to 12 per cent.  The numbers opting to take the extended project has also soared from just over 5,000 when it first introduced five years ago to 30,000.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the OCR exam board, said: "Students are becoming more and more savvy about what they need at A-level for the career they want."

Neil Bentley, deputy director general of the CBI, added: "It's clear students are being savvier in the face of higher degree costs and a tougher labour market by taking subjects that maximise their future job chances."

Academics said the shift in emphasis was also explained by the decision by the Russell Group of universities, representing 24 of the most selective higher education institutions in the country, to publish a list of "facilitating subjects" which would help students gain a place on one of their degree courses.

Thenew A level results also showed a surge of interest in economics as a subject - with entries increasing by 50 per cent since the economic squeeze began in 2008.

They also revealed that the percentage of A* to B grade passes had increased from 52.6 per cent to 52.9 per cent - a move put down to the fact universities have been told they can increase student numbers provided they recruit students with at least an A and two B grade passes.

Andrew Hall, chief executive of the AQA exam board, said the B grade was taking on a new importance for students as a result of the changes.

Mr Lightman added: "I'm worried about seeing people with B grades or less being labelled as failures."

However, Universities Secretary David Willetts said the Government's student recruitment reforms only accounted for around 120,000 university places. Two-thirds of places were still open to students with three B's at A-level and below.

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