The Government is determined to ensure all young people have access to a range of options across a variety of subjects. This includes increasing the number of young people studying science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects post-16, and in particular the number of girls studying these subjects. While similar numbers of girls and boys take science and mathematics GCSEs, and achieve similar results, many fewer girls than boys progress to physics and mathematics A levels. For example, last summer some 130,000 students studied physics GCSE (64,000 girls and 66,000 boys), but at A level, this had dropped to just 25,000 boys and 7,000 girls.
There are some positive signs. A record number of students are now studying science A levels, with mathematics being the most popular subject. Since 2010 A level entries by female students have risen in all STEM subjects: mathematics entries have risen by 10%; physics by 16%; chemistry by 23%; and biology by 16%.
To encourage greater take up of STEM subjects among girls, we are taking a range of measures. On 7 May 2014, the “Your Life” campaign (www.yourlife.org.uk) was launched by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. “Your Life” is an independent campaign involving some of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs and leading employers. The campaign aims to increase significantly the numbers taking A level physics and maths within three years. This will enable tens of thousands more students, and in particular female students, to gain degrees in engineering, physics and maths and have successful careers in these fields.
As part of our overall drive to increase take up of STEM subjects post-16, the Government is also funding the Stimulating Physics Network and the Further Maths Support Programme. The STEM Ambassadors Programme (funded by BIS) is raising awareness among children of the range of careers that science and technical qualifications offer, and 40% of STEM ambassadors are women. The Department is also supporting programmes such as the expansion of the STEM Club network which is aimed at engaging 11- to 14-year-olds to explore and discover STEM subjects. The Big Bang science and engineering fair attracted over 60,000 people in 2013, of whom 54% were girls. To improve teaching of STEM subjects we have introduced bursaries of up to £25,000 and scholarships worth £25,000 to attract top science and maths graduates into teaching.