Ofsted agrees on need to drive gender balance in physics

20 November 2013

In response to the publication of Ofsted's Maintaining curiosity: A survey into science education in schools, the Institute of Physics (IOP) has issued a supportive response.

Professor Peter Main, Director of Education and Science at IOP, said, “We welcome this wide-ranging and compelling report and are particularly pleased to see Ofsted giving greater emphasis to the importance of schools addressing gender imbalances in progression to further study.

“Just 22% of A-level physics students are female - yet girls perform better than boys at GCSE Physics and Science. We know that 49% of state-funded secondary schools send no girls to take physics A-level and most of the rest send just one or two. Therefore the majority of English schools are sustaining or reinforcing the long-standing gender imbalance.

“With concern that school leaders may be either unaware of this detail in their data (especially within 11-16 schools) or have just accepted it as being the norm, we’re delighted that Oftsed has followed a recommendation from our It’s Different for Girls report to make schools accountable for the proportion of girls that progress to study A-level physics.

“This requirement that they track and address imbalances in progression rates to gendered subjects is a major step forward in persuading schools of the importance of breaking stereotypical perceptions of physics.

“Additionally, it is heartening to see the correlation between subject-specific CPD and the quality of teaching and learning in the sciences. This link reaffirms data that we have collected on the success of our Stimulating Physics Network in increasing progression rates to A-level Physics (including the proportion of girls) by supporting teachers with their subject knowledge and pedagogy.

“The evidence that Ofsted collects for these reports is an important and sizeable contribution to the literature that informs policy. We note the observations about teachers teaching outside their specialism. However, it may be possible for non-specialist teachers to coach students for examinations. Correlations at a school level between deployment of specialist teachers and progression rates to A-level might be a better indicator of how much the students engaged with and enjoyed the subject up to age 16.”

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