The schools regulator Ofsted has just published statistics on pupils progressing onto AS levels and then to A-levels, broken down by gender and subject. This is the first time this has been brought together for England as a whole and follows recommendations by the Institute of Physics (IoP) that schools should monitor their rates and compare them to national averages.
The new numbers show that for every 10 boys taking AS-level physics, there are only three girls, whereas for biology there are 15 girls for every 10 boys. For chemistry it is almost gender-balanced with equal numbers of boys and girls taking the subject at AS-level. Maths, like physics, also has a lower representation of girls, with seven for every 10 boys, and it gets worse for further maths, with only four girls for every 10 boys. The national average for all AS-level subjects, including the sciences, is slightly tipped in favour of girls, with 13 girls taking AS-levels for every 10 boys.
The findings replicate the IoP’s own research that found very poor uptake of physics among girls, especially in co-educational state schools.
The Ofsted numbers reveal fewer girls go on to study physics at A-level as well. 57% of girls continue to the higher level compared to 71% of boys. The follow-on rate for other sciences is roughly equal for girls and boys, but maths sees fewer girls continue with their studies: 70% of girls continue compared to 79% of boys.
I should also point out that there are pretty big gender imbalances in non-STEM subjects too: there are three girls for every boy studying sociology and five girls for every two boys studying English. The IoP published a report in 2013 that found that schools with a gender imbalance in physics tend to have imbalances in other subjects too, suggesting that it is the environment, rather than unavoidable inherant preferences among pupils, affecting subject choice.
CaSE published a report last year on diversity in STEM, which amongst other things looked at gender imbalances in school subjects and discussed how teachers and parents can (often unwittingly) influence pupils choices in a negative way. It’s great that Ofsted are now publishing national statistics on gender balance and we hope that schools and Ofsted will do everything they can to ensure children do not feel deterred from studying whatever subjects they want at AS and A-level.