A STEM snapshot

agendaNi analyses the latest GCSE trends for science, technology, engineering and maths.

STEM subjects are covered by 11 GCSEs, examined by five different awarding bodies. Maths has the largest intake, as a compulsory subject, and one of the lower rates of pupils receiving

A*-C grades (66.2 per cent) as it covers those from the highest to the lowest abilities. Additional maths – mainly taken in grammar schools – has a much higher equivalent rate (93.5 per cent).

Single award science is mainly taken in non-grammar schools and is supplemented by additional science. The standalone sciences – biology, chemistry and physics – are largely taught in the grammar sector with biology being the most popular. This is partly explained by its popularity amongst girls and also its status as an entry requirement for medicine.

Design and technology has a relatively low A*-C rate (75 per cent), perhaps explained by the practical coursework element where the mark depends on the merits of individual projects. Engineering has a similar performance although trends are difficult to understand when the statistical base is small – the same is true for manufacturing and statistics.

The greatest year-on-year improvement in A*-C grades was recorded in single award science, where that cohort increased from 61.5 per cent to 64.8 per cent. In the A*-A grades, the best performing students were those taking additional maths (53.2 per cent), chemistry (50.3 per cent) and physics (50.2 per cent).

The CCEA introduced a new GCSE for agriculture and land use in 2013, which will be examined in 2015. Three hundred students are currently studying the course. Some schools offer Level 2 space science technology and Level 2 BTECs in engineering and technology are also available.

Speaking last October, Education Minister John O’Dowd said that STEM is “now a central core element of our education” and was keen to highlight to parents that the subjects “are central to any young person’s career development going into the future.” O’Dowd added: “If we want to compete on a worldwide basis, or if an individual wants to compete on a worldwide basis, we need to have a firm understanding of the STEM subjects.”

STEM GCSEs (2014)

Subject Uptake % A* – C
Additional maths 3,495 93.5
Additional science 1,764 79.7
Biology 4,080 93.3
Chemistry 3,151 93.6
Design and technology 4,703 75.0
Engineering 348 74.7
Manufacturing 170 64.7
Maths 25,944 66.2
Physics 3,007 95.0
Science (single award) 8,231 64.8
Statistics 381 86.4

Source: Joint Council for Qualifications

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