Skip to content

STEM GCSEs increase in popularity

20 Aug 2015

CaSE analyses the GCSE results out today looking particularly at STEM subjects, with breakdowns by gender and grades

Data out today accompanying the GCSE results show an increase in the proportion of exam entries for STEM subjects. Unfortunately, there is also a clear gender divide, with non-compulsory STEM subjects remaining more popular with boys than with girls.

Responding to today’s results, CaSE Acting Director, Naomi Weir, said:

“Congratulations to those receiving GCSE results today. It is encouraging to see increased uptake in STEM subjects and another dramatic jump in the number of students taking computing in particular.

The results also underline a long established but not widely recognised fact – that girls and boys perform equally well in science and maths subjects. It shouldn’t still have to be highlighted, but there is a persistent, and incorrect, perception in our culture of who is good at maths and physics. It is great that the numbers set the story straight.”

In total, 5.2 million GCSE exams were entered this year. 2.3 million of those were for STEM subjects*, accounting for 44.2% of total entries, up from 43.6% in 2014. All pupils must take maths and a subject that covers the three core sciences, so gender is balanced in exam entries in these subjects. However, we see large imbalances in other STEM subjects, meaning overall STEM is slightly more popular with boys than with girls.

Looking at the specific non-compulsory subjects, design and technology is the most popular with both genders, but there are still 50% more boys taking the subject than girls. Computing (which saw a dramatic 111% rise in overall popularity this year compared to last) and engineering are even more male-dominated, with boys accounting for 84% and 93% of exam entries in those subjects, respectively. Statistics and additional maths came close to an even gender balance, although these were still slightly more popular with boys than girls.

With so many ways to study the core sciences at GCSE now, and the option to study additional maths, it is interesting to look at how exam results are distributed across the grades.

Here we see A-B peaks in the single science subjects, with girls doing slightly better in biology and chemistry but almost identical grade patterns for boys and girls in physics and maths. Pupils taking science or additional science (where they study all three core sciences but have fewer units) have grade peaks at C , whereas those students taking additional science (further) have a grade clustering over A, B, and C. This suggests that the more able students are taking the three separate science GCSEs but those taking the further option are also achieving higher grades on average. The data also shows that pupils taking the optional additional maths course are very able, with grade clustering around A* and A.

The data also shows that the single sciences are less popular than last year, with biology entries down -1.9%, chemistry -3.3%, and physics -2.6%. Conversely, the combined science options are more popular, with science up 5.5%, additional science up 10%, and further up 10.7%. These changes in exam entrants may explain the different grade outcomes, with schools being more selective with the courses they enter pupils into.

* The following subjects were counted as STEM: biology; chemistry; physics; science; additional science; additional science (further); mathematics; mathematics (additional); computing; ICT; statistics; engineering; design and technology; other sciences; and other technology.