Analysis of 2021 A-Level Core STEM Entrants

Gap between girls and boys awarded A* in Core-Stem subjects widens

Girls continued to outperform in Core STEM A-levels this year with 52.2% awarded A or A* across all subjects compared with 45.2% in 2020. This compares with 49.3% of boys who were awarded A or A* this year, compared with 44.2% in 2020. Girls outperformed boys in maths for the first time this summer, with 29.1% of girls being awarded A* compared with 28.5% of boys.

In addition, the gap between top achieving girls and top achieving boys in all STEM subjects (bar chemistry) widened this year – with the widest gaps in physics, computing, and design and tech. For example, 25.3% of girls were awarded A* in physics in 2021 compared with 20.0% last year (while 20.9% of boys were awarded the grade this year compared with 16.6% last year). Some commentators have argued that this increase in performance was the result of lockdown and the fact that A-levels were assessed on performance throughout the year rather than exams.  Despite this boost in performance the numbers of girls taking STEM subjects as a percentage of the total remains largely unchanged.

Here are the grade results analysed in more detail:

  • Physics: 53.3% of girls were awarded A or A*, a 24.2% increase on last year.
  • Maths: 57.8% of girls were awarded A or A*, a 13.3% increase on last year.
  • Further maths: 77.5% of girls were awarded A or A*, an 11.1% increase on last year.
  • Chemistry: 49.1% of girls were awarded an A or A*, a 24.3% increase on last year.
  • Biology: 46.8% of girls were awarded an A or A* a 29.8% increase in on last year.
  • Computing: 52.6% of girls were awarded an A or A* in Computing, a 33.6% increase on last year.
  • Design and technology: 54.1% of girls were awarded an A or A*a 15.2% increase on last year.
  • ICT: 57.7% of girls were awarded an A or A*, a 58.5% increase on last year.
  • Other sciences: 43.6% of girls were awarded A or A*, a 38% increase on last year.

Girls as a percentage of total entrants

There hasn’t been much movement in terms of the number of female students taking STEM subjects as a total of the percentage.

Those taking physics were 23.1% of the total of entrants in that subject compared with 22.9% in 2020.

Girls taking maths made up 38.9% in 2021 compared with 39.4% in 2020.

Girls taking chemistry made up 54.5% in 2021 compared with 54.3% in 2020.

Gendered choices

The picture in terms of A-Level choices generally is very gendered, much like that for GCSEs. 93% of all entrants to the heath and social care A-Level, the subject with the most stark gender disparity, were girls. Computing, which demonstrates the starkest gender disparity at the other end, saw 85% of entrants from boys. Although the grades girls achieved in the Core STEM subjects have been steadily improving, the pattern of subjects taken by gender has remained fairly static.  

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