What should schools be doing to address this gender bias?

(74 Posts)
Strix Mon 09-Dec-13 08:08:43

State schools 'making gender bias worse'

This article is about senior schools and A level choices. But I believe the gender bias also needs to be tackled in primary.

NoComet Mon 09-Dec-13 08:40:41

I did the three and maths, because they were the only subjects I was any good at.

I never for a split second thought of doing anything, but science.

DD1 will very probably do the three sciences and art to AS.

We are both dyslexic, essay based subjects are hard work, learning loads of facts for history or geography is hard work, learning French vocabulary is impossible.

For some reason the way science links together clicks in our brains.

As for science not being for girls, we wouldn't notice or care. The hard to explain side of our dyslexia, is not picking up subtle social cues, we have no idea why you look round the classroom to check your not the only girl dying to answer. DD2 would, DD2 fits in and knows how to make friends. DD1 and I don't.

How you make, DD2 want to study science and not think of it as only being for her geeky dad and odd ball mum and sister. I don't know.

In fact I'm not sure I would.

Most science careers are inflexible and geographically tied, way better to be a teacher, nurse, Dr, administrator and be able to follow your DP and work part time when you have DCs.

NoComet Mon 09-Dec-13 08:54:17

Ok Drs need science A levels, but the person I'm thinking of is totally non technical, non geeky and simply very clever and utterly brilliant with people.

She has found herself a part-time, family freindly, people centred job in the most beautiful bit of England.

Now tell be that doesn't beat being a chem eng stuck in Preston. Designing suspended ceilings in the black country, Bristol traffic jams or the Welsh valleys.

Or the constant uncertainty of funding if you remain a science researcher.

CogitoErgoSometimes Mon 09-Dec-13 08:58:49

Interesting that exclusively female schools don't display the same gender bias as mixed schools. That, I would suggest, has to be unpicked to understand what is influencing that difference. If the mere presence of males in a study group makes either schools or female students behave differently, we need to know what is happening to the decision-making dynamic and when.

flatpackhamster Mon 09-Dec-13 08:59:46

For a minute I thought this was going to be about the scandalous lack of male primary school teachers. Silly me.

Strix Mon 09-Dec-13 09:14:00

It seems to me that it all starts so much earlier, when girls and boys (whether by nurture or by nature) develop their likes and dislike. This is of course not limited to, but certainly include, the subjects they like at school.

I'm not a psychologist, but I think this begins around age 2. If we wait for Senior School, the ship has long since sailed.

NoComet Mon 09-Dec-13 09:35:57

OP I'm not sure there is any gender in balance in science at primary, it's just taught really badly, especially now the written SAT has gone and it has been stuffed into a tiny corner of the time table.

I have DDs either side of the change, DD1 did loads of science (I think the SATs syllabus was awful, but at least they did science).

DD2 seems to have been given a, teacher assessor, L5 having done nothing.

That a more general English is for girls, especially with fucking Gove worrying about hand writing and grammar, and maths is for boys bias exists at primary I have no doubt.

It happened DD2 was best at English and one of the boys best at maths.

(Just happens one has a maths teacher mum and the other English teacher grandparents).

Not until they thought they might get some L6s did primary push DD1 or any of the other girls (or table 2 boys) particularly in maths and I don't thing the reverse happened in English either.

Certainly merit certificates were DD2 English, usual boy for maths the whole way through.

In other classes too there was a bias for English girls, maths boys or simply English girls, no certificates for boys.

Or to put it briefly, primary seems to roll with what DCs are naturally good at. Given the greater maturity of girls in reception/Y1 often means their reading, comprehension and writing are often better than the boys and their writing neater. English becomes a girl thing.

That leaves maths where the answer matters and tidiness is much less important for the boys.

(And Dyslexic, worrying haters like DD1 and me!)

NoComet Mon 09-Dec-13 09:38:09

Writing haters, who still can't spell to do maths grin

flatpack That'll be a part of it though won't it? This idea that science et jobs are for boys/men and teaching etc is for girls/women.

I think tackling it at A level is way too late, just look at the messages children are given even at pre-school level! Toys are heavily segregated, with kids being told really early on that there are girls and boys interests and hobbies.

By the time they reach A levels they've been hearing that message a long long time.

noblegiraffe Mon 09-Dec-13 09:47:29

I did maths and physics a-level and both classes were boy heavy, but physics strikingly so, only 2 girls in a class of 20. Like a previous poster, it had never occurred to me that they might be subjects 'for boys' and I'm also not very socially aware so probably missed anything that was putting other girls off.

At the school I teach at, there's a pretty even boy-girl split at A-level maths, but further maths is boy-heavy. I don't know why girls don't take further maths so much, it's going to be hard to address the gender bias without knowing the reasons for it. I will have top set GCSE when I return from maternity leave so it would be interesting to ask them what they are planning to do.

Strix Mon 09-Dec-13 09:49:01

Yes, in primary, the problem is boys are encouraged in math, which naturally gives them a better foundation for the sciences in senior school.

DD (who is naturally really good at math), used to come home from school with tales that math was for boys because the boys in the playground were tellin gher so.

We signed up for Kumon.

ErrolTheDragon Mon 09-Dec-13 09:50:15

>way better to be a teacher, nurse, Dr, administrator and be able to follow your DP and work part time when you have DCs

That's one of the problems right there. Women are overwhelmingly the ones expected to have the 'flexible' career'. Though there are flexible science jobs which allow this (I've got one ... and live near Preston because that's where DH's job lead but its actually a great place to live if you like outdoors more than cities! grin).

The other good thing about the Preston area is that there are a couple of girls' schools which have a strong science/technology emphasis (a comp and a GS). My DD's only problem with A levels will be that she would like to do Maths, 3xscience, electronics and geography!

With a pair of PhD scientist parents, nature and nurture would probably mean that she'd have the same technical bent if she'd gone to a co-ed, but its just that bit easier for her than it was for me - the only girl who did physics A level - only one other even did O-level; one of two girls doing double maths, and the only girl in my chemistry set at A-level. I didn't find it a problem because I could beat the boys grin but if I'd been less sure of myself it could have been pretty daunting.

CMOTDibbler Mon 09-Dec-13 10:04:14

Subject equality has to start in primary with positive representations of real scientists and what they do (and not just academic scientists either), and how all sciences influence our everyday life.

I'm a physicist - 2 girls in my A level class, 7 out of 180 in my degree year. But in my specialism, prob 40% are women - though I do some work in another area where its more like 2% female.
And there are lots of interesting jobs in good places - my chem eng friend is in Hampshire (and got a stonking mat leave package).

Maybe I was lucky to find an area I loved, but I always knew science was my thing, and no one was going to stop me. So maybe children need to be empowered to make informed choices about themselves and a firm policy of no gender bias comments enforced

BertieBowtiesAreCool Mon 09-Dec-13 10:12:00

This is going to sound totally off the wall and unrelated, but I think they have to stop treating girls and boys as though they are different right from the start - down to addressing them as "Girls and boys" - what's wrong with "Good morning, Year 4" or "Good morning children" rather than "Good morning girls and boys"

Aside from obvious issues such as separate changing rooms they don't need to be treated differently and I think it is counter-productive - there is a lot of "Get girls interested in science" "Get boys interested in reading" where I think this is totally the wrong way to go about it.

That IS the difference in single-sex schools - there is no other group to compare yourself to.

I remember my (mixed) school did separate sex English lessons for GCSE. I hated English at GCSE and got a really shit mark, despite the fact I am now an English (as a foreign language) teacher confused One week when our teacher was ill we had the boys' teacher as a substitute and he was great, I really enjoyed that lesson. I've been told before I have a "typically male" learning style rather than a "typically female" one so I don't see why schools can't cater to all learning styles without labelling for them for a particular gender - it might be the case that one sex are more commonly one way and the other the opposite, but that's not the case for all and I think it just serves to reinforce gender lines.

I liked science but I never would have done, for example, resistant materials (metalwork and woodwork) for GCSE. Similarly quite a few boys did English but probably wouldn't have dreamed of doing Textiles or Cooking.

PenguinsDontEatPancakes Mon 09-Dec-13 10:19:45

In relation to physics, I always think that part of it links back to the examples and ways physics tends to be taught.

In my school it was always, always about frigging cars and ramps and the likes. Which is a massive turn off for most girls. Not least because they are so socialised at an early age not to like these things.

I think that the same is often true of many of the things that science relates to in terms of early practical examples. How often is space (despite the fact that DD1 wants to be an astronaut!) portrayed as something for boys. Cars, trucks and machines, obviously. About the only 'science' thing I can think of what we encouarage small girls to play is doctors and nurses.

Strix Mon 09-Dec-13 10:40:43
NoComet Mon 09-Dec-13 10:42:52

Nothing against Preston, just I have DFs who got divorced without living together because of science jobs in Preston and Bristol.

It shouldn't have to be the woman who is flexible, but with career brakes ,(and often being younger) practically, it is the woman who nearly always earns less.

My DR. DF cheats totally as her DP is a WFH accountant and very flexible too.

The other thing, which especially applies to further maths and to a certain extent, maths and physics is girls seem to like variety.

3/4 subjects is very narrow, If like DH you do Maths, further maths, physics and chemistry it's very narrow indeed.

DD1 desperately wants to do the three sciences and Art because she needs something to widen her studies.

Many girls do chemistry and biology, but drop physics for a humanity or a language.

4AS is better than the three we were meant to do (DH squashed ad maths into a corner and I did biology instead if free periods), but it's still too narrow.

DCs need about 5, so you can do 3 sciences, maths and something to keep you sane or widen your options. Art, music, philosophy keep people I know sane, languages or English might be good for future flexibility.

And if course if you had 5 options, humanity students too might be tempted to maths and chemistry. Physics is probably a step too far.

PenguinsDontEatPancakes Mon 09-Dec-13 10:48:33

I agree. I was basically told to only do three (although four was theoretically an option) and found I couldn't stomach 'just' the sciences. So I didn't do Chemistry, Biology and Maths, I added a non-science and dropped one of those.

I'd like to see 5 subjects too. At least four AS is a step in the right direction.

ErrolTheDragon Mon 09-Dec-13 10:54:28

>My DR. DF cheats totally as her DP is a WFH accountant and very flexible too.

Why say she's 'cheating'? confused - when I doubt you'd say that about a bloke.

I'm not sure about doing more subjects at A level - my DD (who is currently yr10) has 6 she would like to keep but they're all on the science/tech side - she does other things out of school (as did I at that age).

> Physics is probably a step too far.
Why though? School physics isn't really difficult. Maybe its that the presentation is dull, so that unless you know you need it to progress, you wouldn't choose it just for fun.

noblegiraffe Mon 09-Dec-13 10:56:06

I've just been looking at the GCSE results for boys and girls, and the A-level results. It's fascinating. Boys and girls perform nearly as well as each other at the A*-A grades in Maths, Physics and Science, so any gender bias isn't actually leading to girls performing worse than boys - A-level is pretty much equally open to both sexes.

However, despite them being nearly equally qualified to progress to A-level, while 28,000 boys sat physics, only 7000 girls did. That's a huge difference. In maths it's around 53,000 boys to 35,000 girls, so not as bad as physics, but a major issue when you think how important maths literacy is to the economy, and also how much it increases your potential earnings.

So girls are just as good as boys at these subjects, and take them in roughly equal numbers at GCSE, but as soon as they are given a real choice, drop them like a hot potato.

TheSmallHoofPrintsInTheSnow Mon 09-Dec-13 11:00:30

I went to an all girls school and did maths, further maths, physics and art. No one tried to push me into doing anything I didn't want to nor dissuade me from doing the subjects I did want to.

noblegiraffe Mon 09-Dec-13 11:07:55

Looking further, 25,000 boys sat English A-level, 64,000 girls did, so there's a big difference there too. However, looking at GCSE, girls way outperformed boys at the top grades, with more than double the number of girls getting A*-A than boys, so more than double the number of girls sitting A-level makes sense in terms of accessibility.

So the gender bias there is different. In maths and physics girls are being put off somehow despite being equally able to progress, in English, however, something is going badly wrong for boys earlier down the school leading to much worse results, so they can't progress.

BlueberryWoods Mon 09-Dec-13 11:27:02

Unfortunately, there often isn't enough space in the timetable to fit all your choices in. I decided to drop French to take physics. Would have loved to carry on with the language at school. I also took chemistry, calculus and statistics. Can't recall any classes being boy-heavy.

TheHammaconda Mon 09-Dec-13 12:38:20

I found a huge gender bias when I did my degree (economics), there were only two other women taking the BSc with me. My masters class was about 10% female with me being the only woman in some of the modules.

I'm now an economics teacher and A level examiner. I now work outside the UK system and find that I have a pretty even mix of girls and boys. When I worked in the UK (non-selective school in Kent) I worked very hard to recruit girls to the subject but still ended up with slightly more boys than girls in my classes. Most of the other female economics teachers I know teach in all girls schools.

One of the problems is that any attempts to encourage more girls into STEM are patronising. See this for an example.

ATailOfTwoKitties Mon 09-Dec-13 12:44:12

Another physics-type from an all-girls school here. I was considered a bit of a lightweight by my further-maths-geek friends, frankly.

University was a bit of a shock with its overwhelming boy-bias in the physics courses.

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