The Institute of Physics (IOP) is a leading scientific society and a charitable organisation with a worldwide membership of more than 50,000, working together to advance physics education, research and application. The IOP engage with policymakers and the general public to develop awareness and understanding of the value of physics.
The purpose of this statistical study was to ascertain whether there are any patterns of bias in subject choices and whether schools tend to conform to traditional perceptions of some subjects being “girls” subjects and others “boys” subjects. One of the questions we wanted to answer is whether schools that send relatively more girls on to A-level physics also have a smaller gender imbalance in other subjects (both for boys and girls), perhaps reflecting the school culture. From our previous report we know that the percentages of girls and boys progressing to A-level physics vary significantly by type of school (figure 1). Looking at all state-funded schools, we found that, in 2011, single sex schools sent on proportionately 2.4 times as many girls to study A-level physics than did co-educational schools. This report looks more closely at the data for co-educational schools in England to try to understand whether similar patterns apply across a range of subjects. This is a report on statistical patterns and the comparative language refers to the data rather than the behaviour of schools.
We have chosen to look at progression to six A-level subjects, all of which are taken by relatively large numbers of students and have an entry with a significant gender imbalance.
The six chosen subjects form comparable pairs:
English and mathematics – both core subjects at GCSE;
biology and physics – two of the sciences;
psychology and economics – A-level subjects not normally taught in earlier years.