Female mathematics students overtook male students for the first time in the number of top grades achieved today’s A-level results reveal.
About 29% of female students gained an A* grade compared with 28.5% of male students.
In every classroom lies the potential for the next big breakthrough, discovery or cure – we mustn’t alienate half the room and risk untapped talent going to waste” – Agata Nowakowska, Skillsoft
There was an increase in the overall percentage of students taking Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects and, significantly, a 5.79 percentage point increase in female students taking Stem subjects in 2021 – with increases across all key Stem subjects: computing (13.02%), maths (2.34%), further maths (4.32%), physics (8.16%), biology (7.06%) and chemistry (7.31%).
However, far more male students took maths, further maths and physics compared with females.
In computing, more than one quarter of female students achieved an A* this year, up from 17.8% in 2020 and 3.7% in 2019.
But the rapid rate of increase in girls taking computing has slowed somewhat: last year there was a 20 percentage point rise in girls taking the subject but this has slipped back to a 13 point rise this year. About 14% of girls take the subject at A-level in recent years.
In maths, females made up 39% of students this year, a marginal increase on 2020. Overall, the combined number of males and females taking maths rose by 3.63 percentage points to reach 94,264.
In chemistry and biology, females made up the majority of students with 7 percentage point increases in the numbers of girls taking those A levels. In physics and further maths, females were in the minority only making up 23% and 29% respectively of students despite an increase in the numbers of girls taking the subjects of 8 and 4 percentage points.
Agata Nowakowska, vice president EMEA of online training provider Skillsoft, described the rise in females taking science subjects as “fantastic”. She said: “In the UK, entries from women and girls to Stem A-levels have increased by over a third in the last 10 years. It’s fantastic that this year’s A-level results show a continued upward trajectory, with a 5.79% increase in female students taking Stem subjects. Continued education and action has been instrumental in inspiring this increase. So too has the ever-growing list of female role models pioneering change.”
She cited the example of female pilot Wally Funk, who in July became the oldest person to have flown in space despite being prevented from becoming an astronaut in the 1960s because of her gender, as having been inspirational and showing that “Stem is a place where girls and women can thrive”.
Nowkowska added: “In every classroom lies the potential for the next big breakthrough, discovery or cure – we mustn’t alienate half the room and risk untapped talent going to waste. We need girls in Stem and they need our continued support. Let’s keep the momentum going.”