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Disadvantage, gender & ethnicity in STEM - and how we’re rising to the challenge

Published: Mar 24, 2022 2 min read

Ben Dunn

Head of Evaluation

National STEM Learning Centre

Our recently published Science Education in England report explores student attainment and progression in science, with a particular focus on gender, socioeconomic disadvantage and ethnicity.

The findings show how attainment and progression gaps in science appear over time, emphasising the importance of supporting young people from an early age.

While there is little difference in the proportion of male and female students entering and passing Triple Science at GCSE (taking three separate science GCSEs), female students are more likely to achieve a high pass in biology GCSE and male students are more likely to achieve a high pass in physics GCSE. This pattern continues at A level, with a higher proportion of female students progressing to take biology A level, and a higher proportion of males taking physics.

The report also highlights the importance of supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds. These students are less likely to perform well in their science GCSEs, and around half as likely to progress to science or mathematics A levels, compared to students not from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, even when students from disadvantaged backgrounds do progress to take science A levels, they are less likely to pass or receive a high grade than their non-disadvantaged peers.

Our analysis also looked at how ethnicity affects student attainment and progression in science. We found differing patterns across gender and disadvantage - suggesting that support for young people from different ethnic backgrounds should be tailored to address challenges appropriate to their needs, rather than a catch-all approach.

This report substantially increases our understanding of the challenges faced in science education. In our view, it’s essential that organisations supporting young people to achieve and progress in their science education should familiarise themselves with the complex interplay between gender, disadvantage and ethnicity. This should ensure that young people are supported in the most effective and appropriate ways. 

Useful links

  • Find out about our ENTHUSE Partnerships. We link employers with schools and colleges to improve students' attainment and progression in STEM subjects
  • Discover how businesses can sponsor an ENTHUSE Partnership - increasing their local and national profile while building a diverse and inclusive talent pipeline