What we're doing to address gender imbalance in physics
For more than 30 years there has been very little change in the proportion of girls studying physics post-16. This is a pressing issue of social equality, justice, and mobility. Currently, only around 20% of students progressing on to A-level are girls, and around 30% of Scottish higher physics students are female. We proactively tackle this imbalance through education research, partnerships, and work in schools.
We are currently running the following gender balance programmes:
- Limit Less is a new campaign to support young people to change the world and fulfil their potential by doing physics.
- Improving Gender Balance (England) is a national research trial, funded by the Department for Education and led by the IOP in partnership with UCL Institute of Education. The intervention phase of this project came to an end in March 2021. Results from the research are due to be published in 2024.
Improving Gender Balance (Wales). As of the 2018-19 school year, girls made up only 23% of the physics A-level cohort in Wales.
The Welsh government funded a one-year pilot project from April 2019 to March 2020, to work with two clusters of secondary schools and a selection of their feeder primary schools to identify and address issues around gender imbalance in subject choices.
The interventions were bespoke to each school, according to their needs. A programme of support was developed in the autumn term based on an analysis of the school, meetings with staff and pupils, and by looking at data and policies.
The actions set out in the programme commenced in the spring term, including elements such as inclusive teaching workshops and continuing professional development training for teachers on STEM careers and unconscious bias.
The Welsh government has funded the project for a second year, from April 2020 to March 2021, with a focus on disadvantaged schools and schools with a high percentage of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) pupils. It is working with two secondary and two primary schools.
Here are some of our former projects:
- Gender Action is an award programme for nurseries and schools which promotes and supports a whole-school approach to challenging stereotypes. Gender Action is a partnership between the IOP, King's College London, UCL Institute of Education and the University Council of Modern Languages. The mayor of London funded the pilot year in 2019. Read the final evaluation for the pilot year (PDF, 2.28MB). The IOP still has an active advisory role on Gender Action.
- Improving Gender Balance and Drayson pilots. The Improving Gender Balance (IGB) project was launched in 2014 and ran until 2016, looking at factors beyond physics and testing different interventions in schools and comparing them against one another. Over the same period, a pilot project funded by the Drayson Foundation investigated the cumulative impact of multiple interventions on the progression of girls to physics beyond the age of 16.
- Improving Gender Balance (Scotland). IOP ran a three-year (2015-2018) IGB (Scotland) pilot, in partnership with Skills Development Scotland and Education Scotland. The pilot worked with six school clusters: each cluster consisted of a secondary school and its associated primary schools and early learning and childcare centres. Read the final evaluation of the project (PDF, 630KB). The Scottish government has recognised the benefits of the approach, and has asked for the learning from the pilot to be rolled out across Scotland. A team of six officers, based within Education Scotland, have started to work regionally, with an aim of embedding the learning from the pilot across all early years centres, and primary and secondary schools by 2022.
- Improving Gender Balance (Ireland). In Ireland, typically only 13-14% of students choose to study physics at upper second level and complete the Leaving Certificate Physics examination and of this cohort only 25-26% are girls. Improving Gender Balance in Ireland was a three-year national collaborative project led by CASTeL at Dublin City University, in partnership with the IOP and Science Foundation Ireland. Read the final evaluation of the project (PDF, 3.3MB). This study was carried out in collaboration with principals, teachers and students from seven second-level schools with the specific aims of enhancing science teachers’ approaches to the teaching and learning of physics in Junior Cycle science, increasing awareness of STEM careers and employing a whole school approach to addressing unconscious bias and gender stereotyping, and building confidence and resilience for students.
These resources are shaped by research and help schools to address gender imbalance and promote equality.
Reports and research
We’ve published several reports investigating the gender imbalance of physics A-level and issues around equality in education.
If you need any further information, please email [email protected].