Diversity and inclusion

Why not physics? A snapshot of girls’ uptake at A-level

Sometimes it is the idle comments that have the deepest effect in discouraging girls from taking physics to a higher level. An ill-judged quip that girls 'can’t' do maths, or physics is 'too hard', can lead to girls making life-changing decisions that influence the subjects they study or the career they pursue.

Foreword by President of the Institute Professor Dame Julia Higgins

Women in physics are still in the minority, and this lack of visibility preserves the myth and cements the fact that physics is simply not a subject for girls.

Our 2012 report, It’s Different for Girls, found that almost half of co-educational maintained schools in England sent no girls to do A-level physics. This report provides an up-to-date view on the data and considers what has changed in the last five years.

It is part of our work to try to understand how boys and girls choose their A-levels, to deconstruct the cultural stereotypes and unconscious bias that discourage girls from taking physics, and to encourage schools to provide girls with the opportunity to study physics at A-level.

This report shows that while some progress has been made since 2012, the physics community still has a significant way to go to achieve gender parity in the uptake of A-level physics.

The lack of girls studying physics at a higher level has consequences for the UK economy. The government’s industrial strategy places emphasis on the high demand for skilled workers in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Physics-based skills are required in many of these growth areas, and thousands more workers will need to be trained every year in order to keep the UK economy competitive. Addressing the gender gap in A-level physics and in the sciences as a whole will help to ensure that we have a highly skilled workforce for the future.

But, more importantly, generations of innovative, talented and brilliant girls are being led to believe they can’t be engineers, scientists, programmers or technicians. Removing the barriers to girls studying physics does not just address the skills need. It also makes our society fairer and our science communities more rich and diverse.

Reflections on the impact of interventions in schools

Improving Gender Balance