05/07/2013 05:06 BST | Updated 05/07/2013 05:06 BST

Girls Ahead Of Boys In STEM Subjects But Not Taking Up STEM Careers

Girls are doing better than boys in traditional STEM subjects, such as Science.
Girls are doing better than boys in traditional STEM subjects, such as Science.

Girls are outperforming boys in maths and science, but action needs to be taken to encourage more of them to study the subjects, it has been suggested.

New data shows that although more boys take vocational qualifications in subjects such as IT and engineering, their female classmates get higher results.

The statistics, published by the Pearson education company, show that almost two-thirds (62%) of pupils who take a BTEC qualification in IT at level 2 - which is equivalent to GCSEs - and more than eight in 10 (82%) of those who take the same course at level 3 - equivalent to A-levels - are boys.

But nearly a third (31%) of girls gained a distinction in a level 2 BTEC IT this year, compared to a fifth (21%) of boys.

At level 3, the same pattern is repeated with 15% of girls getting the highest possible grade against 12% of their male peers.

The statistics also show that 5% of students taking a level 2 engineering BTEC and 4% of those taking the level 3 qualification are girls.

But 37% of girls at level 2 gained a distinction this year, compared to 20% of boys, and 14% of those studying at level 3 gained the highest award compared to 9% of boys.

Girls are also out-performing their male colleagues in science, the figures show.

More girls are choosing to study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), experts said, but warned that low numbers were going on to study these subjects at university and to have careers in these areas.

Rod Bristow, president of Pearson UK said: "In uncertain economic times, students have been shifting towards the subjects that provide the greatest employment opportunities.

"We know STEM skills are crucial to the high skills economy we will need in the future.

"Too often these are seen as 'boys' subjects' - today's figures show that, when girls do sign up to these vital subjects, they flourish."

The figures come just weeks after business leaders warned the UK was facing a ''critical'' lack of skilled workers as firms struggled to recruit suitably-qualified staff.

A survey conducted by the CBI of almost 300 companies found that nearly half lacked confidence in being able to take on high-skilled workers, especially in manufacturing, construction and engineering.

The Commons science and technology select committee has recently announced its own inquiry into women in academic STEM careers.

Committee chair Andrew Miller, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, said: "It is really good news that girls are doing well in science, the first step had to be getting away from the perception that science is a boys subject."

"I would like to find out why girls with science qualifications are not following through into STEM careers.

"This is not a matter of seeking a gender balance in science but to ensure that we are getting the fullest use of available talent in what is going to become an increasingly technology and science-based economy."

Helen Wollaston, director of WISE, (Women into Science and Engineering) said: "The key message that WISE want to get across is that these results prove that girls can do science, IT and engineering - in fact, those that choose these subjects do better than boys.

"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."

Charlotte Vere, executive director of the Girls' Schools Association (GSA), said: "We know that girls perform well in STEM subjects; in GSA girls' schools, 63% of sixth form girls study at least one STEM subject and 59% achieve the highest grades.

"The challenge in co-ed schools is creating a learning environment in which girls feel more comfortable studying these subjects in the first place.

"The 'gender gap' lies not in the level of success but in the numbers in class; research shows that girls are four times more likely to study physics at an independent girls' school than in a co-ed state school - this can't be right."