Analysis Of 2021 GCSE Core STEM Entrants

Record STEM GCSE grades for girls although numbers opting for non-core STEM subjects fell considerably.

Girls achieved record top grades in STEM GCSEs with 55% of girls achieving A*-A *(grades 9 to 7). There was a slight drop in girls achieving A* to C (grades 9-4) at 99.8% compared with 100% last year. The numbers of girls taking STEM subjects at GCSE has stagnated at 47.9% of the total, an arguably unsurprising result since the core sciences and maths are compulsory. There was a fall in numbers taking non-mandatory STEM subjects including computing. engineering, design and tech and statistics.

Here are the grade results analysed in more detail:

  • Biology: 59.0% of girls achieved A or A* an 11.4% increase on last year.
  • Chemistry: 56.7% achieved A or A* an 8.9% increase on last year.
  • Computing: 48.9% achieved A or A* a 16.7% increase on last year.
  • Design & Technology: 44.8% achieved A or A* a 1.1% increase on last year.
  • Engineering: 58.5% achieved A or A* down 2.1% on last year.
  • Maths: 21.3% achieved A or A* a 13.8% increase on last year. 
  • Physics: 55.1% achieved A or A* a 11.3% increase on last year.
  • Science Double Award: 14.7% achieved A or A*, a 22.3% increase on last year. 
  • Other Sciences: 57.2% achieved A or A* a 11.6% increase on last year. 
  • Statistics: 31.7% achieved A or A* a 16.8% increase on last year.

Overall, the number of girls taking STEM subjects mandated by the curriculum (maths and core science subjects or dual-award science) increased 1.1% year on year, in line with the boys. Sadly, there was a year-on-year drop across the additional STEM subjects with Statistics (down 27%), Engineering (down 11.4%), Computing (down 2.2%) and Design and Technology (down 7.5%).

Computing: the number of female entrants at GCSE was 20.6% of the total compared with 21.2% in 2020.

There was a 2.2.% drop for both boys and girls taking Computing GCSE in 2021 compared with 2020. This trend is surprising since the numbers of girls taking A-Level Computing in 2021 increased by a whopping 63% compared with 2020.

Engineering: the number of female entrants at GCSE was 13.9% of the total, the same as in 2020.

The number of girls taking engineering fell 11.4% in 2021, even though their number as a percentage of the total entrants remained the same year on year (13.9%). There was an almost equivalent drop of 11.2% of boys taking the subject compared with 2020 (51 fewer girls compared with 307 fewer boys took the subject year on year).   

Design and Tech: the number of female entrants at GCSE was 30.5% of the total compared with 29.3% in 2020.

Despite a considerable drop in female entrants across many of the non-curriculum STEM subjects, the number of girls taking Design and Tech as a percentage of the total was 30.5 in 2021 compared with 29.3 in 2020.

Gender paradigms

In terms of GCSEs chosen, the old gender paradigms are still in place with just 2% of students taking home economics were boys, and only 11% of students taking construction were girls. That said, with many of the core STEM subjects being mandatory, gendered choices are less obvious at GCSE than in further or higher education.

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