Girls who shun STEM subjects such as technology and mathematics at A-Level are at risk of being “disadvantaged” when they try to get a job, an expert has warned.
The number of female pupils who opted to study STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – fell 0.8%, official data from the Joint Council for Qualifications has revealed.
Computing remains the most male-dominated subject, with girls making up just 9.8% of applicants. Despite a 56% rise in the total number of youngsters opting to study the subject in 2016, the vast majority of those are male.
A-Level results for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, released on Thursday, showed that the 25.8% of all grades were A* or A, a fall of 0.1% on last year. The pass rate remained stable at 98.1%. Girls continued to outperform boys, with 79.7% of females gaining A* to C grades, compared with 75% for boys.
Just 609 girls opted to study Computing this year compared with 5,633 boys. Although the female figure is up from 456 last year, many groups believe more needs to be done.
Microsoft runs the DigiGirlz initiative to teach middle and high school pupils about careers in the sector, connect with company employees and participate in hands-on computer workshops. The company also helped develop the BBC Micro:Bit, a small, programmable computer designed to get boys and girls interested in coding and computational thinking.
Helen Wollaston, chief executive of the Wise Campaign, which tries to inspire girls to study and build careers using STEM, believes Thursday’s A-Level figures could mean women face greater problems when they start their careers.
“Girls will be at a disadvantage in the labour market if we don’t bust that myth that computing is a male subject,” she said. “Thursday’s figures are moving in the right direction but we need to join up and scale up efforts to show girls that people just like them do well in technology and give them the practical support they need to find their niche and to thrive.”
Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer for Microsoft UK, agreed.
“Cloud computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning and quantum computing will change the way all of us live and work in the years ahead,” Coplin, the author of “The Rise of the Humans: How to Outsmart the Digital Deluge“, said. “For the UK to succeed in an increasingly competitive world economy, we need to be drawing on the skills, insights and perspectives of our whole population – not just half of it. We have a long way to go but we need to continue to help students embrace the potential that studying STEM subjects can offer.”
Thursday’s A-Level results have led to a record number of university places being offered to UK students this year. The UCAS admissions service put the total at 424,900, a rise of 3% on A-Level results day last year.
With many university places still available via the “clearing” process, UCAS’s website, which runs on Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform, saw high demand on Thursday and Friday. “Clearing” matches students with available university places after A-Level results have been published.
On Thursday alone 1.4 million students had logged into the UCAS website to track their university application. In addition there were nearly 300,000 course searches and over 2.5m views of UCAS.com. Economics, law, psychology, business and nursing were among the most popular courses.