Head not surprised girls ‘put off’ studying science in mixed-gender schools

The headmistress of a leading all-female school says people should not be surprised that girls are “put off” wanting to study science if they are taught alongside boys. This is from the Telegraph…

New figures have revealed that almost half of all co-educational state schools do not have a single girl studying physics at A level.

Mrs Rebecca Dougall, head teacher of the independent Royal High School in Bath, said the statistics reported by the Institute of Physics were “shocking but not surprising”.

She said teenage girls in mixed-sex schools often faced pressure from their friends to study more conventionally “feminine” subjects such as the arts.

“For a girl to choose physics in a co-ed school is often viewed as a brave choice or a risky move” she said.

“Teenage girls – and boys for that matter – are often desperate to fit in with their peer group, and can be concerned at the prospect of doing anything that might make them stand out from the crowd, which makes a girl studying a subject which some might view as unfeminine much more of a social risk.

“The key ages for this sort of self-consciousness are the years from 13 to 16, just when pupils are choosing which subjects they want to take for their GCSEs and A levels.”

She said there was less stereotyping in all-girls schools, adding “When there are only other girls in the classroom, every subject from art and drama to physics and further maths is naturally a girls’ subject.”

She said studies had shown that women who went to girls’ schools were more likely to study stereotypically male subjects, such as maths, physics and chemistry, both at school and at university.

Around half the students in the sixth forms of schools run by the Royal High’s parent body the Girls’ Day School Trust take at least one science A level, and more than 40 per cent of them study science, medicine or maths as part of their degrees.

Last year, while physics was the fourth most popular subject for A levels for boys in England, it was at 19th position for girls.

IOP president Professor Sir Peter Knight says many girls are not receiving the education they are “entitled to”.

He said “The English teacher who looks askance at the girl who takes an interest in physics or the lack of female physicists on television, for example, can play a part in forming girls’ perception of the subject.

“We need to ensure that we are not unfairly prejudicing girls against a subject that they could hugely benefit from engaging with.”

Royal High School was established in 1998 and has around 800 girl students, ranging from 18 down to as young as three in the junior school.

More at: Girls ‘put off’ studying science in mixed-gender schools, says headmistress

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