Single-sex schools do better at getting more girls to study science
In this week’s Guardian, Ruby McGregor-Smith, chair of the Women’s Business Council, is quoted as saying “Our research showed clearly that women are still predominantly going into traditionally female careers.
This is underpinned by the choices girls make about school subjects. It is very important that girls make their career choices freely, without being hampered by stereotypes, so that they can take whichever route appeals to their interests and ambitions.” This comes from a new guide from the Government Equalities Office entitled “Your Daughter’s Future”. The article and indeed the guide covers much of what we already know and that is in the UK there is a gender imbalance in certain careers such as engineering and this is attributed to the attitude towards science in schools. Girls sway towards the “softer” subjects such as the humanities and creative subjects such as art whereas boys are not put off the macho image of science and related careers.
Part of me agrees with the article and guide and it is true more must be done to present careers such as engineering in a way that attracts equal numbers of men and women. Other countries do not have this problem so ergo it would seem that there is something in our educational system that puts girls off studying science. Another Update for another day could be about why there is also an imbalance in the number of boys taking “gentler” subjects but as a Head of a girls’ school perhaps I should concentrate on the issue affecting girls only.
It is worth bearing in mind that medicine is experiencing the reverse of engineering with too many girls gaining places and there is a worry that as women still opt to be the main carers of a family and perhaps work part time that there will be a chronic doctor shortage in the future. It is interesting that girls are not put off the “science” subject of medicine but they are of engineering. It is possible that image and media portrayal has much to do with this. Engineers are often shown in hard hats on building sites and the term engineer can mean anything from the person who mends your washing machine to someone designing a new bridge.
At Portsmouth High School we do not experience fewer girls taking science and mathematics than those taking say history and English. Indeed a quick count of the lower sixth would show we buck the trend; 21% take biology, 38% take chemistry and mathematics, 16% physics, 29% English, 42% history. If the Government is serious about raising the number of girls choosing science they should acknowledge that single-sex schools do better at getting more girls to study science.