Diversity and inclusion

Still not enough girls choosing physics

Commenting on today’s A level results (15 August 2019), Charles Tracy, Head of Education at the Institute of Physics, said:

“While it’s a positive sign that there has been an increase in girls taking the sciences overall, the real challenge is still the lack of girls taking up technical science subjects (physics, computing and maths). We continue to be deeply concerned that even in 2019 there are still so many ways in which girls are steered away from taking up technical sciences. The IOP is leading on a number of initiatives to tackle the expectations, stereotyping, and conscious and unconscious biases which combine to influence girls’ and boys’ choices of subjects.

“It’s good to see a slight increase in the number of school students taking physics. Studying physics provides huge opportunities in terms of the skills a student learns and the wide range of careers open to them. But it’s also crucial to our economy. We need a fully-equipped workforce which can compete globally in science and innovation and in helping solve some of the biggest problems facing society. The Government has committed to increasing spending on research and development as a proportion of GDP to 2.4% across the economy by 2027, and now we need to see this commitment honoured. But research needs researchers. This is why we are carrying out an in-depth analysis of the physics landscape and the skills requirements of the UK and Ireland’s future workforce.”

Redressing the imbalance

Girls have long been under-represented among those who choose to study physics beyond the age of 16 even though both genders do equally well up to age 16. This shortfall has contributed to an ongoing shortage of workers with highly sought-after scientific and engineering qualifications. It also means that girls are missing out on all the benefits of a physics education. There are no inherent differences between the genders that should limit anyone’s interests, capabilities or ambitions.

The IOP has a goal to redress the gender imbalance in physics education and make the system more just, and has researched this area for a number of years.

In partnership with King’s College London, UCL Institute of Education and the University Council of Modern Languages, the IOP has inaugurated Gender Action, an award programme which promotes and supports a whole-school approach to challenging stereotypes and exists to transform school environments. Involvement with the scheme enables nurseries, schools and colleges to review their current policies and practices against national best practice, and provides a framework to ensure continued development. A Phase 1 roll-out in the capital has commenced, supported by the Mayor of London.