The number of girls taking A-levels in subjects core to engineering careers is growing faster than the volume of boys doing so, according to NCE analysis of official figures.
Data from the Joint Council for Qualifications showed that 118,317 papers were submitted by female candidates in science, technology, engineering and maths.
This was up 1.9% from the previous year, while the number of male entries in these so-called STEM subjects grew just 0.1% to 158,565.
A report by think tank IPPR last year found that many female students were lost to engineering when they made A-level and vocational subject choices at the age of 16. The study said women made up 42% of the UK workforce but only 7% of the professional engineering workforce, an issue the industry is keen to address.
As pupils across the UK received their A-level results this week, the figures showed that the gap in STEM subject choices was at least beginning to close.
It is part of a bigger movement. The government said 16,000 more papers had been entered by young women in STEM subjects in 2015 than when the coalition came to power in 2010.
It added that the number of entries in so-called ‘facilitating’ subjects – those often required by top universities – were up by more than 15,000 since last year and by 13.3% since 2010.
The number of entries in facilitating subjects by women has increased by about 27,000 since 2010, the government added.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said: “This year’s A-level students are among the best qualified in a generation and I want to congratulate them on today’s results which reflect the dedication of teachers and young people across the country.
“These results provide the clearest proof that the introduction of the EBacc and our drive to persuade more pupils to study core academic subjects has been a success.
“As a result, thousands more pupils from all backgrounds are studying subjects that will secure them a place at a top university or an apprenticeship and that will help to secure well paid employment.”
But not everyone was convinced by the speed of progress.
Richard Robinson, chief executive for civil infrastructure throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India at engineering consultancy Aecom, said more needed to be done.
“While this year’s A-level results show rising numbers of students attracted to STEM subjects, there is still a significant gender gap,” he warned.
“It appears that efforts to promote STEM careers are still largely falling on male ears. Technical professions, such as engineering, are keen to hire a diverse range of new entrants, both at A-level and graduate level, but there are still too few female students studying STEM subjects at school.”
Robinson said the industry was working hard to address the problem.
“Our employees regularly visit schools to introduce young people, particularly girls, to engineering and other technical disciplines,” he said.
“But collaboration between businesses and schools needs to be organised on a much larger scale. This is hopefully where the government’s new, employer-led careers advice body can help.”
A-level entries in STEM subjects by gender
boys 24,955 (last year 26, 346)
girls 38,320 (37,724)
boys 26,771 (27,637)
girls 25,873 (25,876)
boys 28,500 (28,958)
girls 7,787 (7,743)
boys 2,640 (2,691)
girls 841 (795)
Science total – boys 82,866 (85,632) down 3.2% - girls 72,821 (72,138) up 0.9%
Design and technology – boys 7,884 (8,100) down 2.7% – girls 5,356 (5,591) down 4.2%
Engineering – boys 225 (241) down 6.6% – girls 26 (32) down 18.8%
boys 56,774 (54,442)
girls 35,937 (34,374)
boys 10,816 (10,053)
girls 4,177 (3,975)
Maths total - boys 67,590 (64,495) up 4.8% – girls 40,114 (38,349) up 4.6%
STEM total – boys 158,565 (158,468) up 0.1% - girls 118,317 (116,110) up 1.9%