Improving Gender Balance - Reflections on the impact of interventions in schools

Physics asks key questions about the universe, and endeavours to create effective models of how it all works. Quite naturally at the Institute of Physics we wish to see more people engaging with the excitement and wonder of the new insights that physics brings, and then – if they feel it suits them – studying physics to as high a level as they can.

Of course we would not expect everybody to have the same enthusiasm as we have. Inevitably, many people will have interests that lie elsewhere. But for more than two decades only a fifth of A-level physics students have been girls. It is very worrying that many girls are being put off the subject at an early age and thereby are being denied the opportunities, excitement and vision that it embodies.

It is a particular passion of mine to inspire more people to engage with physics, to increase the diversity of those who appreciate the wonder of the universe and how it all works, and to enjoy this subject of ours – a discipline that questions so deeply, informing and enlightening as well as underpinning many of the innovations that impact our daily lives.

I find the IOP’s endeavours to date in this area heartening, with positive results coming out of the work done by our education team over the past 10 years. And yet it is clear that much more needs to be done to enthuse more girls into wanting to experience the pleasures, excitement and benefits of a physics education.

Our recent studies have pointed to unconscious biases and cultural stereotyping as possible reasons for this continuing gender imbalance, and they indicate that an embracing culture within the whole of a school is an important factor. Our latest project, Improving Gender Balance, and the pilot funded by the Drayson foundation trialled different interventions in schools and looked at the impact they had.

This report sets out the results and recommendations from that latest work, and will inform our continuing efforts to break down barriers and ensure that students are truly free to choose subjects based on their own aptitudes and interests – and if they choose, to find fulfilment in physics.

Download the report