Girls in STEM, but what about Boys in English? – Emi S

On Saturday at the Sixth Form Open Morning, whilst repping the English department (best one obvs), I got chatting to a parent who asked me whether English classes were the same as back in her day, with a minuscule number of boys taking English for A-level. This made me consider the push for more girls to involve themselves in STEM subjects in recent years, and how successful this has been.

Psychology is the most popular STEM A-level with girls, followed by Biology, Chemistry and Maths, with Computing being the least popular STEM A-level with girls

For example, in current Year 13 A-level classes there is majority girls taking Chemistry and Biology, as well as a significant number taking Maths. Now, I know a single year group in a single school isn’t directly representative of the entire population, but this does happen to be the case in many UK schools: in 2022, A-level STEM entires by girls overtook entires by boys for the first time, with 50.1% taking STEM subjects.

RS, Psychology, Art & Design, Sociology, English, and particularly Performing Arts have the lowest engagement with boys at A-level.

However, as seen in the graph above, though there has been movement in Maths, Chemistry, and even Computer Science towards encouraging numbers of girls, the same cannot be said for English, Art & Design, and Performing Arts encouraging numbers of boys. According to research by the Joint Council of Qualifications, there has been a 34% drop in the amount of boys opting to study English for A-level since 2016.

So why should you care?

This disparity emphasises the current gender gap in education, particularly in mixed schools where boys feel they have to work hard to compete with girls due to English being viewed as a ‘girls’ subject’. The difference is, the push for girls in STEM has resulted in a wave of encouragement which has increased numbers of girls taking STEM A-levels, however this has not been the case with boys in English. How can we expect things to change if we don’t encourage boys to participate in primarily ‘girls’ subjects’ as we do girls to participate in primarily ‘boys’ subjects’?

But enough from me. If you’re a boy and you really want to know what it’s like to take English, here’s some advice from our current A-level English boys:

Oli, taking English Language:

‘I took English for 2 reasons 1, it was one of my better GCSEs, and 2 because I have a genuine interest in and enjoyment of the subject. I never really considered it to be a more gender locked subject but with both this year’s classes only having one boy in each, my view has changed. As the only boy in my class I expected to struggle to fit with my peers and to be able to fully engage with the subject, but I have found quite the opposite. My teachers are both very welcoming and have a clear passion for the subject, which is transferred to me in my learning of the subject, I have particularly enjoyed the recent topics of language change and child language acquisition, both of which are very interesting topics, giving me the chance to see Ralph Fiennes (some of you may know him as Voldemort) at a talk in the library reciting some Shakespeare in different accents. It’s one of the lessons I don’t look at and sigh about on a Monday morning. For anyone, if you have any form of interest in the subject, or maybe are struggling with options, I would recommend English as a subject to take on, looking past the apparent gender divide and taking on a subject you will truly enjoy.’

Denis, taking English Literature:

‘As a boy taking English Literature I received backlash in terms of how different people, from mere acquaintances to my own family, reacted to a sudden major 180 shift on my A-Levels, previously taking Physics. I decided to join E-Lit class to develop sophisticated speech and deeper understanding of the very intricacies of the literature. I thought that taking this a level would contribute to honing my analytical skills, much needed for Economics and Mathematics.’

If you’re a boy in Year 11 and you’re on the fence about taking English at A-level for any reason whatsoever, or maybe if you haven’t even considered it – don’t be put off; talk to boys in the older years doing English, or even Mr Hodson, Mr Gould or Mr Cocker to give you an insight into whether it’s the right subject for you.

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