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Girls in physics and subject choice in schools

9 December 2013

Girls in physics and subject choice in schools

Findings published today show that only 19% of co-ed schools work to counter gender imbalances across 6 subjects including physics; and as many as 49% unintentionally reinforce gender stereotypes. ASE welcomes the Closing Doors: Exploring gender and subject choice in schools report and hopes this research will help address what continues to be a very difficult question for science education. The report analyses 6 subjects physics, maths and economics (which have a male bias) and biology, English and psychology (showing a female bias).

Annette Smith, ASE’s CEO comments, “The question of the gender divide for certain subjects is complex and examining all aspects of it is vital.  Action is needed at all levels of school, university and the workplace to examine practice and ensure that neither intentional nor unintentional messages about “girls’” or “boys’” subjects are given.  This report is very helpful in adding to the sum of knowledge about gender divide in the choice of subjects."

Professor Peter Main, Director of Education and Science at IOP, said, “We are highlighting these findings to encourage schools to think seriously about gender balance. Leaving these stereotypes unchallenged creates unfair and unnecessary barriers and stops students achieving their full potential....the evidence strongly suggests that it is the school culture that determines whether the damaging effects of gender imbalances are overcome or at least reduced". Professor Main continues, “It’s going to take whole-school initiatives to overcome these biases."

The report recommends that Ofsted should introduce accountability measures for schools to monitor and counter gender imbalance. The report further suggests that a whole school approach should be adopted including working with governors, parents, career advisors and curriculum developers to raise awareness of gender imbalances in progression to subjects at A-level.

Note to editors

Closing Doors: Exploring gender and subject choice in schools An Institute of Physics Report December 2013