According to MPs, girls believe that physics is solely for white guys
According to MPs, girls do not take physics at A-level because they believe the subject is just for white boys.
According to senior physicist Prof Dame Athene Donald, the lack of female scientists in the national curriculum contributes to “the message society sends” to dissuade girls from choosing physics.
“You don’t picture yourself fitting in, whether you’re black or a woman,” she explained.
In 2021, women made up 23% of physics A-level students.
This is a small increase over previous years.
Prof. Donald of the University of Cambridge told the Commons Science and Technology Committee that “most of the images one sees of scientists, physicists, are white guys,” which he found “important.”
She noted that teachers should aim to “actively oppose” signals from a society that may prevent girls and young people from ethnic minorities from participating in particular disciplines.
Many women in my generation have stated, “I would have loved to pursue sciences at A-level, but my school discouraged me.” I don’t believe that is still the case, but there is a distinction to be made between “active discouragement” and “no active encouragement.”
The panel discussion follows the criticism of a government expert who claimed that girls skip physics because of its “challenging math.”
Katharine Birbalsingh, a social mobility adviser and headteacher, said physics was not a subject that girls “tend to fancy,” adding, “I just think they don’t like it.”
The comments startled the IOP, and Ms Birbalsingh later admitted that her language was “clunky.”
Prof Donald believes that tracking the gender balance of subjects as part of school inspections could help inspire girls to study physics at A-level.
“But we are focused on the quality of education, on early education, on subjects, and all of those initiatives are the right ones to encourage wider participation at A-level,” Ofsted’s Dr Jasper Green told the committee.
He suggested that gender balance might be something that Ofsted considers monitoring in the future, but that quantifying and improving it would be difficult.