GCSE results show more female success in STEM subjects

  • GCSE results are out across the UK today, with top results in Northern Ireland dropping by 2.2% following a shake-up of the grading system.

    This was the first year a new A* to G grading system was used for all locally-awarded qualifications to bring them into line with that in England. For example, Northern Ireland’s A* has now been fully realigned to the 9 grade in England. A new C* grade, between C and B has also been introduced in NI to align its grades with those in England.

    Michael Gove first introduced the significant change in a bid to drive up standards, which former DUP education minister Peter Weir decided Northern Ireland should realign to in 2016.

    The vast majority of GCSEs in Northern Ireland (96.6%) are studied through Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA), who in recent years has had an increase in female entries for subjects such as Digital Tech Multimedia, Digital Tech Programming and Technology and Design.

    Although these subjects still have more male entries as a whole, statistically this year females have gained a higher percentage of higher grades in their GCSE results.

    Science single award moved out of the most popular subjects for boys and was replaced by geography; yet single award science became one of the new most popular subjects amongst girls, replacing Home Economics and ICT.  

    For both genders, GCSE maths saw an overally 3.2% increase at A*-C from 68.1% to 71.3%. A 1.4% decrease in proportional entry for STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) was noted but it was too early to discern a trend.

    Across England, Wales and Northern Ireland there was a substantial closing of the gap between boys and girls in maths, which is the largest single subject. While the proportion of boys obtaining top grades nudged up slightly to 20.6%, the proportion of girls getting A/7 or above leapt by nearly a percentage point, from 19% last year to 19.9%, more than halving the difference between the two groups.

    In physics – a subject traditionally dominated by boys – girls made large strides in eliminating the gap in grades, which is close to disappearing at grades C, or 4, and above. In the top grades the proportion of girls jumped from 40% to 42.1%, driving a strong improvement overall, while the proportion of boys rose by just 0.3 percentage points to 46.1%.

    The improved results come after last week’s A-level results revealed that more girls than boys entered science subjects for the first time, the culmination of decades of effort to increase the involvement of women in STEM subjects.

    Derek Richardson of Pearson, which owns the Edexcel examination board, told The Guardian: “We know that young people are increasingly concerned about the world around them and want to make a difference. The ‘Attenborough effect’ is fuelling an interest in science, and young people are focusing their studies towards the world of work where there’s an increasing demand for STEM careers.”

    The figures released by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) showed a significant increase in the number of girls taking computing, up 14%. Girls are still heavily outnumbered by boys, making up less than a quarter of the total entries, but they continue to outperform their male peers at the subject with just under 25% getting A/7 compared with 21% of boys.

    The changes in England, along with the new grading structure, have made it increasingly hard to compare results with those in Wales and Northern Ireland, because of the differing content as well as different age groups and resits affecting the results.

    Around five 5% of GCSE entries in Northern Ireland are through English exam boards.

    The Skills Barometer, developed by Ulster University, previously estimated that the NI economy needs STEM skills the most to remain competitive, and more NI-based companies have been trying to promote STEM support to help this with science workshops in schools, and STEM-based apprenticeships.


    Source: PA

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    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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