For more than 30 years only a fifth of those taking A-level physics have been girls. Over that period every effort to increase uptake has failed. Uptake of A-level physics among girls has remained at about 20%. The various methods tried clearly haven’t worked at a national level.
Meanwhile, our analyses have found striking differences in uptake in mixed-sex state-maintained schools compared with single-sex schools. The type of school affects the rate of uptake of physics. Further research showed the extent to which gender stereotyping can occur in schools, and how it can create barriers to subject choice.
From our research and recent pilot projects, we can deduce that further work to increase girls’ participation in physics should – at least in part – operate across the whole school, involving students, teachers of physics and of other subjects, senior leaders, parents and governors. And it should tackle biases and stereotyping.
Our latest gender-balance projects trialled interventions of this type. Each strand of these projects had some positive impact, and a combined approach had a transformational effect, with the number of girls taking AS-level physics in the participating schools drastically increasing from 16 to 52 – more than trebling over two years.