Improving gender inequality in subject choice in schools, 08 March 2017

The Institute of Physics has been researching the issues around the participation of girls in physics for well over a decade and we have produced numerous reports during this time to improve the participation of girls in physics beyond the age of 16. 

Later this month, we will be launching our latest report, indicating that the whole-school environment is important to remedy gender inequality in all subject choices. It is not enough to simply improve the number of girls taking A level physics, but to look at how we can challenge gender stereotypes across the whole curriculum. Even if the science department itself is a gender-friendly environment, with good practice in place with regards physics and science more generally, this is negated if stereotypes are reinforced in other activities, other subjects or outside the classroom.

Our report, to be published towards the end of March, will highlight essential good practice and will provide details of the results of projects that we have been running over the last 2-3 years. Our recommendations to schools include: 

  • Appoint a gender champion at the senior management level.
  • Ensure teachers are aware of their unconscious biases in the way they interact with students, provide feedback, manage expectations and give careers advice. All these have the potential to impact on young people’s aspirations. It can also help teachers deal with sexist and sexual comments or inappropriate behaviour.
  • Examine the data by comparing subject choice to the national averages in terms of gender.
  • Rethink science clubs to ensure they are not focused on boys or too boy-heavy.
  • Engage students in this work by asking them to challenge their own biases and that of those around them.
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