A levels: Stem gender gap larger in wealthier schools

A-level computing has the most skewed ratio between female and male entries, new analysis of DfE data shows

Catherine Lough

A levels: Gender gap Stem entries bigger in more affluent schools

Schools with "low levels of disadvantage" have bigger gender gaps in entries for Stem subjects at A level, new analysis reveals.

School Dash analysis of Department for Education A-level data from before the pandemic in 2018 and 2019 shows that schools with lower proportions of students eligible for free school meals had a larger gender gap for A-level sciences, computing and maths.

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In A-level maths in 2019, schools with high levels of deprivation had a gender gap of 14.4 percentage points compared with 17.8 percentage points in schools with low levels of deprivation.

The analysis also reveals that A-level computing had "the most skewed gender ratio, with only three girls for every 20 boys".

Tackling the gender gaps in Stem A levels

But A-level maths and physics had the greatest shortfalls when it came to female students, with more than 20,000 girls per year "missing" in each subject, with both gender gaps widening between 2018 and 2019.

Maths remains the second most popular Stem subject among girls, after biology, with 17 per cent of female A-level students taking it in 2019 compared with just 4 per cent taking physics.

The analysis also shows that single-sex and independent schools had "somewhat less gender-stereotyped subject choice, but it's unclear how much of this is down to the schools themselves rather than simply the characteristics of their intake".

And School Dash adds that: "On a more positive note, we see relatively little evidence for gender-specific cohort effects in which very small numbers of girls or boys wishing to take a subject at a particular school result in none of them doing so."

Timo Hannay, managing director of School Dash, said that in schools with low levels of deprivation, the larger gender gaps in Stem A levels mean that schools needed to look at the composition of entries and not just rates.

"The underlying reason for this is that, although such schools show higher overall entry rates for maths, this effect is bigger for boys than for girls, so the gender disparity actually increases," he said.

"So schools need to pay attention not just to overall subject entry rates but also to student composition.

"Maths4Girls and Ada Lovelace Day are good examples of organisations that work with schools to correct these kinds of disparities."

In 2019, girls overtook boys in entries for science A levels for the first time ever.

Figures published on A-level results day in July showed that, across the UK, females accounted for 84,111 entries in biology, chemistry and physics this year (50.3 per cent) and males for 83,133 (49.7 per cent).

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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