Girls in the Physics Classroom: A review of the research on girls’ participation in physics

A literature review of the research from 1990-2005.

Report cover

This review by Patricia Murphy and Elizabeth Whitelegg of the Open University aims to consolidate current understanding of the problem and to identify from existing research the reasons why girls choose not to continue studying physics. It also identifies the strategies that have succeeded in increasing the number of girls studying physics post-16.

The reports reveal some of the important issues that underlie the statistics for examination entries:

  • It cannot be assumed that, in the current National Curriculum provision, all students, in particular girls, are gaining meaningful access to physics.
  • Students’ interest in science declines as they progress through school and the decline appears to become steeper after age 14, particularly for girls and particularly in physics.
  • Girls, more than boys, experience a difference between their personal goals for learning and the learning objectives of the physics curriculum. As a consequence they are less inclined to opt for physics, even if they achieve high grades and enjoy the subject.
  • As they go through secondary schooling, students experience physics to be increasingly difficult. This perception is partly due to the mathematical demands of the subject but also to girls’ developing feeling of “not being able to do physics”. The feeling is not borne out by the reality of girls’ performance.

Executive Summary (PDF, 731 KB)

Full Report (PDF, 666 KB)

If you would like a paper copy of the review please email

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