Girls 'beat boys' in skills-based science subjects

By Judith Burns
BBC News education reporter

  • Published
Girls in laboratory
Image caption,
Girls are outnumbered in science and technology BTECs but are more likely to get top grades

Girls who take certain skills-based science and technology qualifications outperform boys in the UK, suggest figures from an awarding body.

Data from Pearson, which runs the BTEC awards, suggests that girls who take these qualifications are more likely than boys to get top grades.

Despite this success, girls are vastly outnumbered by boys on these courses.

"When girls do sign up to these vital subjects they flourish," said Pearson president Rod Bristow.

Pearson's figures show that the number of girls taking BTECs in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects is growing - but from a low base.


This year, girls made up 5% of students taking engineering at BTEC Level Two, taken alongside GCSEs. That amounts to 810 girls, a rise from 680 last year.

However more than a third (37%) of these girls gained a distinction, compared with 20% of boys.

At BTEC Level Three, the proportion of female engineers was just 4% - but again they performed better than their male classmates, with 14% achieving the highest grade, as opposed to 9% of the boys.

In information technology (IT), girls made up 38% of the cohort at Level Two but around a third (31%) gained a distinction, compared with 21% of the boys.

The proportion of girls taking the more challenging Level Three in IT was just 18% but again their grades were strong with 15% gaining the top grade, compared with 12% of their male classmates.

"Still too few girls make the next step in a Stem-related career by studying these subjects at university. This is something educators, business and government all need to work on and put right," said Mr Bristow.

Surrey-based student Mehreen Rana, who obtained a distinction in her Level Three BTEC in IT and has a place to study computer science at King's College, London, said: "I hope more girls will follow in my footsteps and realise studying a Stem-related subject at school, college and university could be right for them too."

Anna Douglas, director of applied sciences at City and Islington College, said female role models were key to encouraging young women into Stem subjects.

"We are fortunate to have a number of female science tutors at the college, many of whom are educated to PhD level, who act as fantastic role models to young female students. This provides them with the skills, confidence and drive to pursue rewarding careers through Stem subjects."

Female talent

Helen Wollaston of Women into Science and Engineering said the results proved "that girls can do science, IT and engineering.

"At a time when UK industry is crying out for more people with Stem qualifications, we have to get more of this female talent into the workforce."

MP Andrew Miller, chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Committee said it was important to find out why girls with science qualifications were not following through into Stem careers.

Engineering UK's chief executive Paul Jackson said the wider engineering community was working to "engage and inspire girls and boys in equal measure".

Pearson's figures came as the Institute of Physics (IoP) announced that three quarters of UK university physics departments have now signed up to its Juno Code of Practice, aimed at fighting gender inequality in the subject.

Women make up one-fifth of physics undergraduates but only 7% of physics professors.

The aim of Juno is to redress this with better childcare provision, flexible working and a more transparent organisational structure, says the IoP.

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