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GCSE results 2016: STEM entries rise, grades falls

25 Aug 2016

As students across the country today get their GCSE results, CaSE intern, Gerard Westhoff, analyses the trends in the data, and looks at how STEM subjects fared this year.

For 16 year olds up and down the country GCSE results day is one of the most anticipated (or dreaded) days of their school career. For CaSE, its a day of looking at spreadsheets of results data (which are more complicated than usual this year due to a cocktail of policy and curriculum changes).

There are two main trends in the GCSE results this year: a welcome rise in STEM entries and an unexpected decline in STEM A*-C grades.

The rise in popularity of STEM subjects.

Despite an overall drop in GCSE entries this year of 0.7%, the proportion (and real terms number) of student entries in STEM subjects has risen from 40.6% in 2015, to 41.6% this year.

The subject that has proportionally gained in popularity the most this year is Computing, with entries rising from 35,414 to 65,454, at the expense of ICT. However, despite a massive 120.6% boost in girls choosing to study the subject, they are still outnumbered by boys by a ratio 8:2.

The biggest increases in real terms are those across the core sciences, although there was a significant drop in students studying Additional Further Science due to students instead choosing to study seperate sciences. The most significant gains in STEM  were made by 16 year olds, with the number studying Science increasing 22.5% from 208,192 to 254,964, and the number of students studying Additional Science rising 11.3% from 322,353 to 358,911.

Some of the changes in entry numbers are due to Government policy change – such as the large drop in the number of entries by 15 year olds, in part due to new Government performance measures only counting a student’s first entry in a particular exam for league tables. Also, the number of 17 year olds entering Mathematics GCSE increased by 32.6% due to a policy enforcing compulsory resits for 17 year olds who did not obtain a minimum of a C grade the first time round. However, this increase  in Mathematics entries by 17 year olds was countered by a number of 16 year old students choosing to study the IGCSE Mathematics course, leading to a small decrease in mathematics entries overall.


Girls are continuing to beat boys in most STEM subjects, with a peak of 2.6% more female 16 year old entrants obtaining A*-C grades in Chemistry than their male classmates. However, boys have now equalled the achievement of girls in Physics, and interestingly both genders outperform the average A*-C proportion for all subjects, in the separate sciences.

It is the results for 16 year olds which show the best representation for Mathematics grades this year due to the additional number of 17 year olds sitting the exam. The outcome for all Mathematics entries gaining A*-C declined 2.3%, primarily due to just 29.5% of 17 year old entries obtaining at least a  C grade, compared to 70.5% of 16 year olds – marking a 1.4% increase on 2015.

Students who study sciences separately continue to gain higher grades than those who study combined sciences. However, the proportion of students obtaining the higher grades has fallen across both routes this year. Amongst the single sciences the largest drop in A* grades acheived was in Chemistry, with a drop of  -1.3% in A* grades awarded compared to 2015, whilst A*-C grades dropped by -0.4%, -0.9% and -11.% in Biology, Chemistry and Physics respectively. In the combined sciences there was smaller dropsin A* grades awarded in Science and additional science, but there was a dramatic decrease in A*-C grades award, with drops of -3.8% and -3.5% respectively. 

Commenting on today’s GCSE results, Deputy Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), Naomi Weir said:

“Today’s results are a mixed picture. It is great to see more people taking science subjects due to the future options that they can open up for individuals. However the results are also a reminder of the challenges teachers and pupils alike have in responding to and successfully navigating extensive and fast paced change in courses, assessment, and monitoring.

I sincerely hope that the new government will ensure that future education policy direction or change will be robustly evidence based, will be done in partnership with those most affected and will be carefully implemented with sufficient time built in for transition. There is too much at stake to do otherwise.”