Female students outnumber males in A-level science entries | Education
The number of female students taking exams in A-level sciences overtook males for the first time ever this year, the culmination of decades-long efforts to encourage the take-up of science, maths and technology.
But the publication of the summer exam results for hundreds of thousands of students across the UK also showed a dip in results across the board in England, including a sharp drop of one percentage point in those awarded the top A and A* grades to the lowest share since the A* grade was introduced in 2010.
The proportion attaining the top A* grade in England fell to 7.7% while the proportion attaining A and A* went down from 26.2% last year to 25.2% this year, with the biggest falls coming in male performance. For entries in England attaining grades C and above, the rate also fell to 75.5%, down from 76.8% in 2018 and the lowest rate since 2012.
England’s weaker performance dragged down the UK-wide average, despite some better performances in Wales and Northern Ireland, with more than 9% of entries by women in Northern Ireland gaining A*s.
Overall, 25.5% of entries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland attained As or A*s, compared with 26.4% last year, and the proportion of those attaining C or above dropped from 77% in 2018 to 75.8% this year.
Ucas, the university admissions facilitator, announced that a record proportion of 18-year-olds had been accepted on to higher education courses, including more than 28% of 18-year-olds in England and a record number from disadvantaged areas. But the total number of students accepted, including those from overseas, has fallen by 1% to 408,000.
Philip Wright, director general of the Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents the examination boards, said: “This year’s pass rates are stable across all A-levels and it is particularly encouraging to see the rise in young people being inspired to take science A-levels.
“For the very first time, female entries have overtaken male entries in the sciences. We have also seen a rise in entries for subjects such as history, geography, computing and political studies.”
In England alone, the proportion of female students among those taking sciences rose to just over 50%, as the numbers of both men and women taking Stem (science, technology and maths) subjects accounted for 21% of all A-level entries, up from 19.2% in 2018.
Biology was the most popular subject for women, who accounted for 63% of entries. There were also more female chemists proportionally, but men continue to dominate in physics, making up 78% of all entries in England.
This year’s results in England include shifts in the numbers of candidates taking maths and English A-levels, a change thought to be driven by the introduction of more rigorous GCSE exams and partly by a continued drive towards science and technology subjects, as well as the rising popularity of alternatives such as psychology and political studies. But budget pressures on colleges may have also helped cause the fall in entries.
The decline in uptake of modern foreign languages has levelled off this year although numbers remain small. Spanish has for the first time overtaken French as the most popular language at A-level, with UK entries up 4.5% to 8,625, while French has seen a 4.1% drop to 8,355 entries.
Contrary to expectation, the popularity of Chinese among 18-year-olds declined this year, with entries down from a high of 3,334 last year to 2,272. There was much excitement last year when it became the third most popular modern language, but German regained the third spot this summer with 3,033 entries, still marginally down on last year’s total of 3,058.
University admissions offices across the UK are braced for record numbers of inquiries through clearing and adjustment, where students accept offers for undergraduate study or seek new courses after receiving their exam results. More than 70,000 candidates were expected to use clearing, with the number boosted by the large number of courses still available and by a new ability for applicants to release their existing offers to seek other opportunities.
Gavin Williamson, the education secretary for England, said: “Everyone receiving results today should feel proud of their achievements – as should the thousands of teachers that supported them in our brilliant schools and colleges. Today marks the culmination of years of hard work which it’s right to recognise at this time of year.”
Angela Rayner MP, the shadow education secretary, congratulated students on their results, and reiterated Labour’s policy of bringing in post-A-level admissions for university students.
“We need to give more support to our students, so Labour will abolish predicted grades and implement post-qualification admissions. This will allow those studying to make informed choices, and reduce the stress of the transition to higher education,” Rayner said.
This year’s A-levels include the last major group of subjects to have been overhauled as part of changes instituted by Michael Gove as education secretary. Candidates sat reformed exams in 19 subjects, including design and technology, while mathematics was also taken by the full cohort for the first time.