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STEM Challenge

Soroptimist International STEM CHALLENGE – encouraging Surrey girls to study STEM subjects

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The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) blog about this year’s A-level results

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) is an independent think tank in the UK.  It published a blog in September 2020 about this year’s A-level results.  Here are some of the conclusions drawn by Mary Curnock Cook, the guest contributor.

Headline conclusions from the analysis relating to girls

  1. 1. Girls are still significantly more likely to take A levels than boys. This is reflected in the continuing gap between male and female progression to university
  2. Differences between males and females by subject need addressing.  Why do girls love Biology and hate Physics?  It matters, as does boys’ allergy to English

Results for the sciences and STEM relating to girls

The share of entries to STEM subjects (which include Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Computing, ICT, Design & Technology) is marginally up but has barely changed over recent years at 37.5%

Nearly a third more young men take STEM subjects than young women. This leavesthe gap stubbornly hovering above 17% where it has been stuck for many years.

Just across the three sciences, Physics, Biology and Chemistry, there are slightly more entries from females this year.  Buttheir share of entries remains below the males by nearly 4 percentage points.

Visit HEPI for more information about this blog

COVID 19 forced us to abandon the 2019-20 STEM Challenge.  We plan a relaunch in the autumn, pandemic permitting.

Third Soroptimist International Stem Challenge for secondary school girls – October 2018-July 2019

Fifteen teams of girls in five Surrey schools worked very hard to prepare their projects for our 3rd STEM Challenge for Schoolgirls in Surrey. The students from Hoe Valley School Woking, Tomlinscote School, Guildford County School, Ashcombe School and Thamesmead School showed us some fantastic ideas  They met our challenge with projects ranging from eco-bricks, fridges and cookers to anti-rape watches/wear and baby carriers!

The Finals and Awards ceremony on 4 July 2019 was held in the Moore Building, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham.  It was a fantastic evening.  Helen Bowcock PhD OBE, Chair of Air Ambulance Kent Surrey Sussex presented the prizes. She was assisted by Professor Stewart Boogert, Physics Head of Department, Royal Holloway.  The judges said that it had been very difficult indeed to choose the winning teams. For the Year 9 prizes, the choice was so finely balanced that the judges insisted on awarding an Honourable Mention to a fourth team!

Each girl in the winning team received £30 and their school was given £250.  The runners-up each received £20 and their school was given £100.  SI Woking, SI Weybridge and SI Surrey Hills gratefully acknowledge the financial support of Southern Co-operative and the Ken and Marjorie Robertson Trust.

We also thank Outreach Officer Anna Christodoulou and the Royal Holloway Outreach Team for their generosity and support in arranging the event.

Why a STEM Challenge?

Fewer girls than boys study STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – beyond first exam level. The percentage of girls to boys is still below 20%. 

The members of Soroptimist International are keen to encourage more girls to study STEM subjects.  That’s why the three Soroptimist International Clubs of Surrey Hills, Weybridge and Woking organise the STEM Challenge.  Schoolgirls in Key Stage 3/Years 8 & 9 (aged 12-14 years) are invited to take part.  The STEM Challenge helps girls to develop an ability to innovate. It also encourages them to become more interested in STEM subjects.   Not only that, taking part n a STEM Challenge is a great confidence-builder.  Being more confident helps girls to overcome barriers they may face later on.


It’s taken a long time to recognise the contribution that women can make to science as well as to the humanities.  Mary Somerville (1780-1872) wrote:

“Age has not abated my zeal for the emancipation of my sex from the unreasonable prejudice too prevalent in Great Britain against a literary and scientific education for women”

Our support for this project meet Sustainable Development Goal 5:  Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.  It also meets the overall Sustainable Development goal of eradicating poverty.