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Btec STEM report - 'too few' girls going on to university

Girls are outperforming boys in the sciences but are still not choosing to take such subjects ahead of university, a study on vocational qualifications has found.

Female students in class

Figures published by education and publishing company Pearson, which runs the Btec qualification, show that in 2012-13, 37 per cent of girls gained a distinction for the Btec Level 2 in engineering compared with 20 per cent of boys.

However, far fewer girls were studying the subject: only 5 per cent of Level 2 pupils and 4 per cent of Level 3 pupils were female.

For the Btec Level 2 in IT, 31 per cent of girls gained a distinction compared with 21 per cent of boys. But fewer girls take the advanced qualification, with proportions falling from 38 per cent at Level 2 to 18 per cent at Level 3.

Despite the gender imbalance, the study also finds that more pupils are taking vocational qualifications in STEM subjects compared with last year.

At Level 3 the number of pupils taking science increased by 36 per cent, while for IT and engineering the numbers increased by 27 per cent and 25 per cent respectively.

Rod Bristow, president of Pearson UK, said: “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.”

He added that “too few girls” also make the next step in a STEM-related career by going on to study these subjects at university.

Research by London Economics published in May found that while 38 per cent of boys taking engineering Btecs went on to study the subject at university, only 1.4 per cent of girls did the same.

“This is something educators, business and government all need to work on and put right,” Mr Bristow said.

The Pearson report comes just a week after the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee launched an inquiry into women in STEM careers.

Labour MP Andrew Miller, chair of the committee, said: “I would like to find out why girls with science qualifications are not following through into science, technology, engineering and maths 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.”

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