More girls take up higher-level STEM subjects

Girls studying science subjects took greater advantage than boys of changes to the college entry system that rewards average students for sitting higher level exams.

Latest State Examinations Commission figures reveal proportionately more girls moved up to higher level in the three main science subjects.

Although the 1,743 girls doing higher level physics lags well behind the 4,500-plus boys, it is almost 11% more than did so last year, compared to a 2% rise in male numbers.

More girls continue to take chemistry, and the number who did it at honours level is up nearly 9% over 2016, compared to a 4% rise among males. The data shows the numbers of male and female students for each of the subjects taken by 55,800 students who got Leaving Certificate results on Wednesday.

Figures released yesterday also show that up to 38 students have got no result in at least one subject for cheating, with another 34 being contacted about suspected breaches.

Biology is also far more popular with girls, and it was taken by 16,546 females at higher level.

While the number of boys who did so passed the 10,000 mark with an increase of nearly 500, or 4.8%, the jump is far less than the 1,010 (or 6.5%) rise in female higher level biology students.

Despite the big continuing gender gap in numbers doing physics, the figures will please those running campaigns to get more young women to study and pursue careers in physical sciences.

As anticipated beforehand, this week’s results showed big rises in numbers doing higher level maths with the introduction of 37 college entry points for students getting 30% to 40%, marks which would have scored an E grade and zero Central Applications Office points previously.

Although girls had closed the gap on boys in terms of higher-level maths participation since the introduction of 25 bonus points in 2012 for anyone getting 40% or higher, males and females doing higher level have increased in very similar numbers this year.

Maths continues to be one of the few subjects at which male higher level candidates are more likely to get top grades, the 7.8% getting a H1 for over 90% being more than double the corresponding female figure just as it was in 2016. The statistics for those getting 60% or higher show gaps under that heading remain similar.

Among more than a dozen of the most popular subjects, a higher proportion of girls got H1s, as well as more grades of H4 (60%-70%) or higher, in English, Irish, biology, geography, French, business, home economics, history, agricultural science and physics.

The grades have been changed this year from A1s, A2s, B1 to B3 and so on, with 10% separating each grade at higher and ordinary level.

There was an increase of 3% across all subjects in the numbers of students doing higher level papers.

But it may not have a big effect on CAO cut-off points, as larger numbers who opted for higher level may be of similar ability to those who would previously have got high grades in ordinary level exams.

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