Half of all Britain’s co-ed state schools don’t have a single girl studying physics at A-level


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Hundreds of co-ed state schools do not have a single girl studying physics in their sixth-forms, according to a new report.

Too often, the study from the Institute of Public Policy Research think-tank says, teachers and careers guidance staff put them off from studying science, still believing it leads to careers for “clever boys”.

Figures show that last year only one in five physics A-level entries were from girls, while only two out of five maths candidates were female.

This is despite the fact that just over 72,000 girls obtained top grade A* to C grade passes at GCSE in physics, of whom only 10 per cent went on to study the subject in sixth form.

“The underrepresentation of women in STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] subjects creates male-dominated environments within science classrooms which can help reinforce stereotypes and put off potential female students,” the report says. “Young women are more likely to take physics if they attend an independent single gender school.”

The study warns the most acute problem caused by the gender bias in the UK will be a shortage of engineers with an extra 250,000 needed to be recruited by the end of the decade.

The shortfall, it argues, could be made up if more women could be persuaded to opt for it as a career; the UK lags at the bottom of the European league table for recruiting women into engineering with just seven per cent of the workforce being female. That compares to close to a third in Latvia and more than a quarter in Sweden.

“The evidence suggests that choices at 16 are made on the basis of attitudes and perceptions about engineering that have been formed over many years,” says the report.

“Because many still believe that most science-related careers are masculine or reserved for the brainy few, key influencers such as teachers and families believe a career in engineering will be inhospitable and undesirable for teachers.”

IPPR researchers say the UK needs to be producing 87,000 engineering graduates a year to fill all the posts available, but currently is turning out around 46,000 a year, leaving a shortfall of 250,000 by 2020.

According to businesswoman Debbie Sterling, chief executive officer of the GoldieBlox toy company, girls as young as four need to be introduced to construction rather than “pink aisle” toys in supermarkets and toy shops to counteract the bias against women pursuing an engineering career.

Dr Angela Strank, chief scientist at BP, said: “There’s nowhere near enough engineering graduates to meet the needs of British industry. In particular, there’s a desperate shortage of women. 

“This report shows young girls still see engineering as a career for clever boys.  We all need to do much more to stop girls excluding themselves from these career options at a very young age.”

Famous women science role models

Marie Curie (1867-1934) is possibly the best-known woman physicist and chemist. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first and only woman to win two. She is renowned for her theory of radioactivity, and for discovering two elements, polonium and radium. She founded the Curie institutes in Paris ans Warsaw, which are still major centres of medical research today.

Mary Anderson (1866-1953) invented the windshield wiper after a winter trip to New York in 1903 when she observed a driver leaving his front window open to clear falling sleet from the windshield.

Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) was the first African-American woman to attain a doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in nuclear physics. She has received many awards for her research and work as well as several honorary doctorate degrees.

Marissa Mayer, chief executive officer of Yahoo, was the 20th person to be employed by Google and its first engineer. She helped it develop its search technologies and worked on other key products - including images, maps books, news and the toolbar.  She is also on the board of directors at Walmart.