This year’s A-Levels saw a small jump in the numbers studying STEM subjects, but a shortage of teachers across technical disciplines could threaten these gains in coming years.
A total of 41 per cent of total A level entries were in STEM subjects (up slightly from 39 per cent in 2015 and 40 per cent in 2016). For girls, the figure remains static at 35 per cent, while 46 per cent of entries for boys were in STEM. As was widely reported, boys outscored girls in the overall results for the first time in 17 years.
Girls are better represented in biology (61.7 per cent), and there are more female entries in chemistry A-Levels for the first time since 2004. Gender splits in traditionally male-dominated subjects persist, however, with girls accounting for 21.5 per cent of physics and just 9.9 per cent of computing students. While overall participation in STEM is climbing, there is a continued shortage of teachers across technical subjects that could prove detrimental to plans for STEM expansion.
“The jobs of this generation will increasingly benefit from skills learnt through science and maths subjects: analysis, critical thinking and combining creativity with tech know-how,” said Dr Sarah Main, director of CaSE (Campaign for Science and Engineering).
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“The government has put science and engineering at the heart of its industrial strategy. But we still have a lot to do to encourage young people from all walks of life to benefit from the opportunities that developing maths, science and engineering skills offers. As a first step to achieving this, government must urgently address the shortage of teachers in specialist subjects such as maths, computing, engineering and physics.”
According to the most recent Department for Education Initial Teacher Training census (2016-17) teacher recruitment targets were not met in maths (84 per cent), physics (81 per cent), computing (68 per cent) and design and technology (41 per cent). Worryingly, a recent report from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) also found that science and maths teachers were also leaving the profession in the highest numbers.
While the need for more take-up in STEM A-Levels is well established, some industry voices were keen to note that not all jobs in the technology sectors require top marks in maths and physics.
“It’s vital for us to be communicating just how relevant digital skills are across all sectors and industries,” said Lynn Collier, COO, Hitachi Data Systems, UK&I. “STEM skills aren’t just for developers and coders, and will be vital in helping the next generation of business leaders build successful careers.”
“Yet it’s also important for us to remind those receiving their exam results today of exactly what the technology sector is looking for. We don’t just need employees with a technical background; there are also roles available in many areas including marketing, leadership and consultancy. As a result, technology companies should be welcoming in A Level students and employees from all disciplines – as we build a varied and diverse talent pipeline.”