1/2 of all state schools have no girls sitting physics A level

(392 Posts)
Himalaya Wed 03-Oct-12 08:46:52


Just listening on the radio. sad

Thoughts? Experience? Ideas?

EmmelineGoulden Wed 03-Oct-12 09:00:18

Half of all co-ed state schools. Girls from single sex schools much (150%) more likely to study A-level physics than their co-ed counterparts.

ramonaquimby Wed 03-Oct-12 09:03:12

coed secondary schools should think about offering single sex classes for subjects like Physics. they would have a much higher take up - am sure I've seen stats like that in the past.
imo of course

Himalaya Wed 03-Oct-12 09:05:34

Thing is physics is such a minority subject at A level anyway, not sure many schools could run two streams?

Maybe earlier on, before girls drop out of it?

Bonsoir Wed 03-Oct-12 09:08:15

The really big problem with physics is that it needs to be introduced much earlier on in the curriculum (early primary years) before all the misconceptions set in that are so hard to unlearn.

seeker Wed 03-Oct-12 09:09:13

What are the figures for private schools?

mnistooaddictive Wed 03-Oct-12 09:09:57

I was taught physics in a single sex class in a mixed school in the 80s. I hated it. To make it viable, our class was mixed ability and a lot of us felt frustrated at being held back by the slow pace of teaching due to some if the class not understanding. I would never choose it voluntarily. It may be interesting to see how many schools have no boys studying physics as I think it may also be higher than we think.

mnistooaddictive Wed 03-Oct-12 09:11:19

Bonsoir, that in interesting. My dd did lots of physics in tece

mnistooaddictive Wed 03-Oct-12 09:12:39

Sorry, try that again. She did lots of physics in reception and loved it. Magnets and iron fillings, forces of motion etc. I would expect her to love physics though as she is like me!

CaseyShraeger Wed 03-Oct-12 09:13:56

How many boys do those schools have doing Physics A-level? It's not a great statistic, no doubt about that, but that would help identify how bad it is.

I didn't do A-level Physics because no one at O-level stage could explain to me properly what a volt actually was. It did click for me when doing A-level Chemistry, but it was a bit late by then. Also because I didn't want to drop History and already had Maths/Chemistry/Biology locked in. With the benefit of hindsight, I should probably have done Physics instead of Maths. And our Physics teacher smelled funny, which to be fair isn't really a matter for education policy.

Slubberdegullion Wed 03-Oct-12 09:14:26

Is it still the case that if you do physics A-level you are strongly recommended to do maths as well?

mnistooaddictive Wed 03-Oct-12 09:16:06

Yes it is slubber.

Slubberdegullion Wed 03-Oct-12 09:16:55

Interesting Casey. I did physics without maths A-level and in hindsight I should have either both or neither.

Bonsoir Wed 03-Oct-12 09:18:28

DD (7) has a great German dolls house and we are going to wire it for electricity this winter - she is very keen and it will be a great introduction to physics.

Slubberdegullion Wed 03-Oct-12 09:18:32

Thanks mnistooaddictive.

How many A-levels do young people sit these days? (parent of primary school dc)

mnistooaddictive Wed 03-Oct-12 09:19:32

The majority of students do 4 AS levels and then 3 at A2.

whistlestopcafe Wed 03-Oct-12 09:19:50

I agree with Bonsoir. We didn't cover any science subjects at primary school at all.

Bonsoir Wed 03-Oct-12 09:23:22

The biggest challenge to wiring DD's doll house is going to be the instructions (in German...). My German is up to ordering the bits we need online. DP has the physics skills (in French). Ho hum. We need a German and French speaking wiring assistant!

CaseyShraeger Wed 03-Oct-12 09:24:02

I'd done AO maths after O-level, which I think would have covered a fair bit of the Maths requirement.

Actually actually what I should have done given that I wound up doing a degree subject completely unrelated to A-levels was to drop both Maths and Physics and do English and History alongside the Biology and Chemistry. But I thought I might like to do a science degree at the time.

shock No science at all at primary school? When did you go to school, if you don't mind me asking?

We did loads of science, partly because we were lucky enough to have one teacher whose degree was in science (Chemistry, IIRC).

I nearly did Physics A Level but got put off because we were told we'd do the syllabus that focussed more on electronics and there was a more interesting-sounding one that the boys' school did. Then the year below me they organized for girls who wanted to do that syllabus to swap in with the boys' school classes! So I guess they bucked this trend of girls in co-ed situations not going for physics.

Does anyone know what the gender distribution of teachers is?

margerykemp Wed 03-Oct-12 09:28:33

Is there any point taking physics though if you don't want to do a physics degree/become a physics teacher?

Maybe we need to change tact and value 'feminine' subjects and encourage boys to take them rather than pushing girls into highly valued 'masculine' subjects?

Bonsoir Wed 03-Oct-12 09:30:04

Physics is a fantastic subject with masses of real life applications for everyone. Sadly, because of the way it is introduced at school (too late), the window of opportunity for getting to grips with it is largely lost to most children.

seeker Wed 03-Oct-12 09:30:41

"Is there any point taking physics though if you don't want to do a physics degree/become a physics teacher?"

Because physics is exciting, fascinating, wonderful, magical, spiritual, mind boggling..........and is helping to understand the enormous questions in life!

Why would you not want to take physics!!!!!!!!

maillotjaune Wed 03-Oct-12 09:34:26

Margery yes there is a point. Physics helped with the physical chemistry when I did A level, as opposed to organic chemistry. And it was just very interesting <geek>.

More generally as I start to look at secondaries now DS1 is in Year 5 I am depressed by the fact that in our local academic, OFSTED outstanding comp, far more kids do A levels that I don't remember existing when I was at school rather than the "Traditional" subjects, including physics.

Himalaya Wed 03-Oct-12 09:36:42

Here's an article with a few more stats. Boys are 4x more likely to do physics than girls, it doesn't say what % of schools have no one sitting A level physics.

It does have an interesting side note about Sciencegrrl - initiative set up by scientists incensed by that stupid Europen Commission video.

Margery shock that you should think understanding the basic forces underlying are world is inherently masculine, and we should stick to bigging up "feminine" subjects (what would that be? Knitting? Deportment?)

BlueStringPudding Wed 03-Oct-12 09:59:14

DD2 is very good at Physics, and it is on her list to do at AS/A2 along with Chemistry and Maths. However the open day at our local sixth form co-ed college put her off a bit, as the classes are very male dominated, and the tutor said that some of the girls struggled with a lack of confidence, and were more likely to drop out. Classes were 20 in size, and they did try to guarantee that no girl would be the only girl in her class.

She is currently at a single sex independent school - and Physics is a key issue in our decision whether we keep her there, but that won't be easy financially, and the college does have a very good reputation and is nearer.

Slubberdegullion Wed 03-Oct-12 10:01:32

seeker and Bonsoir. I agree physics is fascinating and fantastic and I utterly adored it at GCSE level. A-level (for me) was an entirely different kettle of fish. It beacme very very maths heavy, which I really struggled with as I wasn't doing maths A-level, and all those lovely fun experiments and revelations I had at aged 15 seemed to become swamped and dulled by endless, heinous equations.

Personal opinion of course and does little to explain why physics & maths subjects are chosen by fewer young women that men.

fwiw I couldn't (or would have struggled) have got into my chosen degree if I had done physics and maths. So I wonder if university preferred A-level choices result in the subject not being taken up (seeing as studying maths as well is recommended).

Bonsoir Wed 03-Oct-12 10:05:05

I don't think that physics and maths are discrete subjects at A-level (or Bacc, or whatever) - hence the huge difficulties pupils encounter when they are decoupled.

whistlestopcafe Wed 03-Oct-12 10:07:53

LRD I was at primary school from 1977-1984. I remember just before we left our teacher said we would be conducting a science experiment as we would be taught science at secondary school. We then went on to conduct a floating experiment with paper boats and a bowl of water. Ds did something similar in reception. We were 11.

When we went to secondary school science lessons for the first term consisted of conducting experiments using Bunsen burners. I have dyspraxia and couldn't even set the Bunsen burner up so I was at a disadvantage as I would never even get to conduct the experiment. I switched off from science before I had even got started.

CaseyShraeger Wed 03-Oct-12 10:25:45

I was at primary school around the same time as whistles (slightly earlier). The only 'science' I can remember us doing was being told in top Juniors that "animals breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide; plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen", which was a bad enough distortion of the truth to be actively unhelpful.

The DCs do loads of science, though - a big improvement.

ReallyTired Wed 03-Oct-12 10:28:59

Its a bit misleading to say that half of state schools have no girls doing A-level Physics when many state secondary schools do not offer A-level physics.

Oh, that's rotten whistle.

I hated using burners too - I was paranoid about the smell of gas and we had a teacher who used to open the window so they flames would blow out if you were next to it!

We did stuff with 'floating and sinking' in reception, though, your teacher sounds dead cheeky!

margerykemp Wed 03-Oct-12 10:37:55

I put masculine in "." to show that I don't think they are so but that they are often described that way by the press/public.

By 'feminine' I was thinking about languages which are done by more girls than boys.

I did French and Physics and found French to be much more useful long term.

LittleFrieda Wed 03-Oct-12 10:38:08

My son is doing A level physics at a non-selective state school and there is one girl in the class. The same only girl who is in his futher maths class. And the classes for 3 of the four subjects he's picked comprise fewer than 8 pupils to one teacher. That's a much better ratio than is offered at most private schools.

Isn't physics supposed to be the hardest A level? Perhas they need to make it a bit easier. grin

LittleFrieda Wed 03-Oct-12 10:40:45

Why does it matter, beng the only girl in the class?

glaurung Wed 03-Oct-12 10:45:59

What radio station was it on Himalaya? Dd was supposed to be being interviewed by the radio about girls in Physics this morning and I'd assumed it was the local one. In the end she's at home coughing like mad and barely able to speak instead.

Probably just as well as she usually jokingly says 'the odds are good, but the goods are odd'!

seeker Wed 03-Oct-12 10:49:13

"Why does it matter, beng the only girl in the class?"

Do you know any teenage girls?

I heard this and it saddened me. I did Physics A-Level, back when it was still the norm to do Physics, Pure Maths and Applied Maths at A-level. Not sure what they do these days as I don't think that Maths is divided into two subjects?

It really saddened me as physics is such a great subject. I can't remember doing any science at Primary school, but after the age of 9 it was all chemicals and explosions, lots of fun for kids, and we spent many happy hours between the ages of 9-18 learning stuff and having a great time doing it. Somewhere in amongst the fun we learned stuff too.

DD's school combine sciences in with the main lesson (it's Steiner) but they do get to do really interesting blowing-up/building stuff type of lessons that kids love so much and I think that's why a lot of their pupils do choose science A-levels.

I don't know how true it is, but a science teacher told me that a lot of comprehensive/state schools no longer did the fun bits of science because the schools didn't have time to prepare the risk assessments required to do them, so many pupils only ever got to watch experiments either on video or from the other side of a large perspex screen, to keep them safe. If science isn't fun then why is any pupil, male or female, going to want to do it?

glaurung Wed 03-Oct-12 10:57:24

To be fair though seeker, it depends on the girls. Dd thought she would be the only girl at one point, but isn't (her friend is the only girl in another physics group). I just asked her how many girls there were in her class and she wasn't sure (3 or 4 she thought), however she doesn't sit with them and it wouldn't bother her unduly if they weren't there, but obviously not all girls feel the same.

More worrying than the social aspect is the underlying assumption that girls can't do/are no good at physics that the figures perpetuate.

Startailoforangeandgold Wed 03-Oct-12 11:00:34

I not only did Physics, but the first year of a physics and Astro degree (hence my user name).

But it wasn't much fun, it became almost neat maths. I hadn't done further Maths or even got a brilliant ordinary A Level. I was sunk.

I didn't want to be an engineer like my Dad, but I thought I wanted to do something women didn't do. I never minded being one of only two girls.

In the end. I became a biologist (fortunately I'd twisted the HTs arm to do 4 A levels)

I'd done Biology for fun, the degree course was fun too! Varied and interesting.

That the problem with Physics, sexist though it is, that sort of dry abstract detail doesn't hold most girls concentration.

Yes, I like biochemistry, genetics and the technical end of biology rather than ecology. But even the most intricate workings of a cell are linked to medicine and the real world.

Lancelottie Wed 03-Oct-12 11:03:00

Just asked DS about this, and he says there are 2 girls out of 30 in his A-level Physics group. His (very, very) bright friend was put off taking it because on touring the sixth form last year, she could only spot one girl in the lab.


seeker Wed 03-Oct-12 11:04:11

I agree, Glaurung. It shouldn't put girls off, and thankfully there are many that it doesn't. But if you were swithering between physics and another subject, rather than completely comitted to the subject, then being the only girl would be the deciding factor for many.

My dd started off doing physics in an all girl 6th form, but wasn't happy at the school. So she moved to another, mostly boy school, and found the idea of physics there too intimidating. She was annoyed with herself for doing it, but feels she made the right decision. I'm not sure, but hey ho.

Lancelottie Wed 03-Oct-12 11:04:49

Sympathies, Startail! I struggled with the maths by degree level, too (only had A level maths, most people had done further maths as well). Mucking about with lasers making holograms in the dark was HUGE fun though!

Lancelottie Wed 03-Oct-12 11:09:15

'dry abstract detail ', Startail? I know what you mean, but to me it always seemed kind of sculptural -- all those wave equations and theories on star collapse and electron banding... and spectra... and diffraction patterns... oooh, I'm coming over all nostalgic here!

Turning any of it into real, practical use without falling off my bike in a distracted haze of diffracted streetlights was more my problem.

Slubberdegullion Wed 03-Oct-12 11:10:18


"That the problem with Physics, sexist though it is, that sort of dry abstract detail doesn't hold most girls concentration".

but is that true though? Is there something about having an XX chromosome that makes it harder to understand and/or enjoy dry, abstract subjects.
(genuine q btw, am currently studying gene defects causing neurotransmitter related pathologies)

I bet the only one or two girls in the class has a lot more to do with it. And a-level chocies related to career choices (and the gender bias that goes with that)

Berry72 Wed 03-Oct-12 11:12:44

I chose an all girls school for my dds for this very reason - sciences. I went to an all girls school where the headmistress was a scientist and although I went on to do very traditionally female A levels - English, History, History of Art, Art - I loved science. My oldest dd is very very keen on science and rather sweetly was completely bowled over by the idea that anyone wouldnt want to do Physics grin (she's only in year 8).

MarshaBrady Wed 03-Oct-12 11:17:01

I preferred physics and maths when they became more abstract, ie concepts and equations. Rather than applied.

Lots of girls at the top of the advanced subjects. It probably did help that we didn't feel like the odd one out.

glaurung Wed 03-Oct-12 11:19:38

I don't think physics is as bad as computing/computer science for gender inbalance. At an international computing/informatics competition last week there were 5/317 female contestants. One of the organisers said for some reason girls just don't seem to enjoy the subject.

BlueStringPudding Wed 03-Oct-12 11:55:10

This site has some interesting information - www.iop.org/education/teacher/support/girls_physics/action/page_41602.html

In the downloadable PDF at the bottom "A Teacher's Guide for Action" there's the observation that "Teachers found that, in mixed groups, boys tended to rush into practical activity while girls often wanted to draw up tables for results or carry out other preparatory work before starting an experiment. This led to a polarisation of roles, with boys becoming the “doers” and girls becoming the “scribes”.

Also "The questioning technique that teachers use is a crucial factor in engaging girls in physics. In a mixed class, boys will almost always be the first to respond to a request for
“hands up” to answer a question directed at the whole class. Very few of the teachers who participated in this project used this approach because they were well aware that girls would be less likely to contribute. By allowing thinking time, most of the teachers also avoided instant responses, which typically came from boys and denied other students the opportunity to reach an answer."

Girls also tend to phrase answers in a more consultative way - to allow others present to contribute their ideas too. In a predominantly male environment this can be perceived as uncertainty, resulting in the contribution being ignored. There have been quite a few studies showing that having at least 30% women present (in meetings/ on Boards) allows their contribution to be 'heard'.

LittleFrieda Wed 03-Oct-12 12:06:37

seeker - actually I don't know that many teenage girls which is why I was asking the question. The fact that your DD swapped from her mostly girl school to mostly boy school suggests she isn't initimidated by male dominated environments. Perhaps she just changed her mind about physics.

Startailoforangeandgold Wed 03-Oct-12 13:17:50

I don't think most scientific girls are bothered by there being not many girls in physics or chemistry classes. I loved it, no bitchy cliques. No fashion and celeb rubbish to worry about. Geeky boys don't expect to get girl friends so they are just friends and lab partners.

I really think there is something in the very abstract nature of physics and computing that doesn't appeal to most Women. Strange as pure maths does have quite a few females.

DH is a total geek and he can get totally engrossed in fine technical detail in a way I can't.

I love the bigger picture the big bang theory, partial physics etc are fascinating until you turn them in to maths.

What computers can do is brilliant, but writing code with all those fiddly ruleshmm

I think we most certainly need to encourage girls into physics and computing, but I'm not sure we should expect equal numbers to study them at the highest levels or be found in the most abstract corners.

Perhaps it is hard wired into us to always keep on ear out for the baby crying in the night, so to speak, to not do one thing and ignore everything else around us.

I don't know, it's bloody annoying, a bit of me would still loved to have been an astronomer.

Bitchy cliques = girls; 'geeky boys don't expect girlfriends' ... crikey, any more stereotypes you want to throw at that! grin

Ok, I do get what you're saying, but honestly, I did half my sixth form subjects in a co-ed group and the other half with the rest of my all-girl school (we shared classes with the boys' school for small subjects) - the boys were as cliquey as you can imagine.

I don't think physics is more abstract that pure maths. And I've never been quite clear where the dividing line is between mechanics and physics.

Slubberdegullion Wed 03-Oct-12 13:38:34

But from a purely subject matter pov why do abstract/mathematical subjects appeal to boys more than girls?

I really struggle with the hardwiring hypothesis tbh, although I am intrigued to know if there are neuro-physiological differences (+/- effects of hormones upon) between the sexes that influence the ease of which new subjects are learnt, and pleasure gained from the process.

I wonder if you asked a large group of 14-15 year olds a load of increasingly hard sums and gave them all a functional MRI scan while they were doing them what the images would look like? would there be a significant difference between the scans of the boys and girls?

LittleFrieda Wed 03-Oct-12 13:45:11

slubber - are you a neuroscientist?

CaseyShraeger Wed 03-Oct-12 13:49:57

Even if there were, it wouldn't tell you anything about hardwiring. The human brain is plastic and by 14/15 it's had 14-15 years of socialisation acting on it.

dinkystinky Wed 03-Oct-12 13:52:42

Not that sure its much better in private schools. In my private school, I was one of 3 girls taking A level chemistry (in a class of 20), my friend was the only girl taking A level physics (in a class of 12). Conversely there was only boy taking A level spanish alongside me (in a class of 6) and only 5 boys taking A level english in my class of 16.

dinkystinky Wed 03-Oct-12 13:53:40

P.s. my issue with A level physics is I was told I'd have to take maths and further maths A level to do it. Didnt enjoy maths so decided to drop physics. Got on fine with my chemistry A level though (even the physical chemistry components)...

ithinkimightbegoingmad Wed 03-Oct-12 14:05:06

just marking my place-doing a PGCE in Physics!

Want2bSupermum Wed 03-Oct-12 14:06:21

Numerous studies have shown that girls do better in the classroom when boys are not around. This was the reason why my father wanted my sister and I going to all girls schools. He wanted us to explore subject areas with confidence and has already told us that he will back us up financially if we decide to go private with DD. We are in the US and the science provision is not good in our town. We are looking to move to another township where the schools there have a much stronger program from an earlier age.

I went to a private school and out of year of 90-ish there were around 30 taking Chemistry, 35-40 taking Biology and 15 or so doing Physics. Those who were doing Physics did Maths and most also did Further Maths. It helped that the teachers were brilliant and it was considered cool to study science subjects.

PrideOfChanur Wed 03-Oct-12 14:06:39

I did A level Physics,I don't remember it being particularly abstact - not that that would have bothered me. For the degree I went on to do Physics,Maths,Biology would have been the perfect set of A levels,I didn't do Maths as I couldn't cope with the thought of doing all those topics covered by both courses twice from 2 different angles.
I didn't have any problems with that.
I was in a single sex grammar equivalent school,and my class was maybe 15 people? Not noticably smaller than Biology and Chemistry.This was in the 70's though.

ithinkimightbegoingmad Wed 03-Oct-12 14:06:51

I love the bigger picture the big bang theory, partial physics etc are fascinating until you turn them in to maths

couldnt agree more! grin

TeaAndHugs Wed 03-Oct-12 14:07:09

I went to a single sex school. There were about 10 of us that did physics A level, out of a year group of roughly 100. There was never any suggestion that it was an unusual subject for girls to like. We had some inspiring female physics teachers which helped enormously.

"Is there any point taking physics though if you don't want to do a physics degree/become a physics teacher?"

I work as a freelance writer. My physics degree taught me how to explain complicated ideas clearly, review scientific literature, understand statistics, and assess the quality of scientific studies - all skills that I use frequently in my work.

ithinkimightbegoingmad Wed 03-Oct-12 14:08:16

are there less female physics teachers?
maybe its about role models?

Slubberdegullion Wed 03-Oct-12 14:08:50

grin Freida, a physio.

Casey yy, that is much more likely to be the case, but it would still be interesting to see the differences in brain function of 14 years of socialisation whilst doing abstract exercises.

Kind of links in with what BlueStringPudding sais in her post about the differences between how girls and boys will approach an experiment.

OhGood Wed 03-Oct-12 14:13:14

Whoever it was on Radio 4 this morning who said 'Girls don't like doing physics' absolutely enraged me. That's exactly the kind of attitude that adds to the creeping, nasty, sexist, unconscious tide that makes girls think that 'proper' girls don't do physics, or maths, or computer programming. The irony is, she was trying to make the point that teachers are gender-neutral in their approach, and should not be blamed for decisions made by girls. Well, if you create an atmosphere in which you can make a stupid, ignorant, sexist generalisation like that, then you are very much to blame.

If anyone wants to read a much better argument than mine, I can't recommend Cordelia Fine's book 'Delusions of Gender' enough. She patiently debunks the whole 'Girls are good at x, boys are good at y' myth. That Radio 4 woman (can't find out who she was) should be made to read it before she is allowed to open her mouth again.

OhGood Wed 03-Oct-12 14:14:07
mumzy Wed 03-Oct-12 14:14:38

My dsis did a physics degree in 80s where for every 1 girl there were 10 boys on the course. The upside was she was never short of boyfriends grin

mumzy Wed 03-Oct-12 14:16:50

Also dsis degree made her somewhat of a rarity and got her into some amazing wellpaid jobs again she was completely outnumbered by male colleagues

I did physics, pure maths and chemistry in 1985. Physics was by far the easiest, it seemed all you had to do was learn equations. I was the only girl in the physics class and it felt really liberating. Although the concepts were interesting up to a point, it seemed to get detached from the actual application of physics and just turn into maths. Long term biology would have been far better, I did a chemistry degree and have worked in biochemical fields ever since.

CMOTDibbler Wed 03-Oct-12 14:19:19

It saddens me hugely. I'm a physicist, and I love how physics is what underpins everything in our universe. Physics is not dull dry and boring, and though of course to study at high level you stop just having the 'big picture' and see the detail, it is beautiful.
Its nothing to do with my chromosomes, but due to good teaching by people who loved science (not by any means the norm), and having the chance to see what physics is really about.

I could get on my high horse about the media representation of scientists too, but I'm in a meeting where I'm using physics to save lives an all.

Youwontdissolveintherain Wed 03-Oct-12 14:23:08

If you want to get children interested in physics at an early age you could do worse than get this: http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Adams-Hot-Wires-Electronics/dp/B0006SK3WG

6yo Ds was given it by my mum and loves it - and friends' 10/11yo girls who came round spent all afternoon on it making lie detectors and burglar alarms etc. Brilliant fun.

TheSmallPrint Wed 03-Oct-12 14:24:01

I went to an all girls school and did Physics and Maths at A level with a full class. I was also taught by two female Pysics teachers (we had plenty of male teachers in the school) and one female and one male maths teacher.

Youwontdissolveintherain Wed 03-Oct-12 14:24:23
TheSmallPrint Wed 03-Oct-12 14:24:33

Be nice if I could spell Physics. grin

I loved Physics at school but couldn't take A level as it clashed with Economics. I wonder how many schools have female Physics teachers? Could that have something to do with it?

TheSmallPrint Wed 03-Oct-12 14:27:44

Anyone doing A level physics at our school also had to do first year A level maths as the mechanics part tied in. They were allowed to drop it after AO level. I did further maths also.

Annunziata Wed 03-Oct-12 14:31:51

My DD was only one of 3 girls in a class of 20 taking Higher Physics (Scotland.) There are 4 girls in her class of 400 (engineering at uni). It's shocking.

ouryve Wed 03-Oct-12 14:32:42

Bonsoir - it's taught right from year 1. It's just not called physics.

LittleFrieda Wed 03-Oct-12 14:33:13

Slubber grin

Mumzy - and the downside was she was never short of boyfriends. grin

LittleFrieda Wed 03-Oct-12 14:39:09

The jobs that lead on from physics A level are portrayed as being only for people who wear unfashionable shoes. I'm sure that has something to do with it.

ByTheWay1 Wed 03-Oct-12 14:39:53

We chose our daughter's secondary school partly BECAUSE 3 girls sat physics last year (out of 8) - the other 3 secondaries in the area had no girls sitting physics OR chemistry. Two of them had no physics entries at A level at all....

TheSmallPrint Wed 03-Oct-12 14:40:41

I'm an architect, I don't think I wear unfashionable shoes grin

Annunziata Wed 03-Oct-12 14:43:03

Didn't you see the cracking advert about girls in science for the EU, Frieda? It thought shoes were really important.... www.youtube.com/watch?v=g032MPrSjFA

It made DD very cross.

ijustwant8hours Wed 03-Oct-12 14:45:38

I did A level physics 15 years ago, i was the only girl in the class and the only one not doing maths. The teacher made us watch a video of a woman running topless to illustrate the concept of oscillation. I quite liked being the only girl but nobody seemed to realise that the reason i was behind the others was that i hadnt done the mechanics in maths that they had!

I dropped out before sitting the exam and have always regretted it. I am planning on sitting AS level physics in the summer!

Slubberdegullion Wed 03-Oct-12 14:48:36

Jesus wept. That advert is beyond depressing. I am doing learning science all wrong.

<opens text book and blows blusher all over it>
<bites sunglasses saucily>

Numberlock Wed 03-Oct-12 14:49:49

Is there any point taking physics though if you don't want to do a physics degree/become a physics teacher?

You could say that about any subject though. That's like saying there's no point studying any A Level subjects unless you're going to do further study or become a teacher.

(And I'm not even going to comment on the masculine and feminine subjects comment....)

Jolibee Wed 03-Oct-12 14:52:59

I don't have the A level stats but it appears the porblem starts before A level.
In England at GCSE this year 79290 boys took Physics and only 69889 girls.
Interestingly there was a slight gender inbalance in the results with 16% of boys receiving an A* and 21% of girls. Even more stiking is 91% of pupils managed A*-C.

duchesse Wed 03-Oct-12 14:55:30

I'm not sure that very many state pupils are taking physics anyway, so that in itself could ensure a vanishingly small number of girls taking. The cure to my mind is to improve the teaching of sciences in state schools full stop, not to focus on girls as a group. Pupils are likely to be realistic in their choices at A level and if their science education to 16 has been woeful, they will realise that A level is a bit too much for them.

Jolibee most schools enter students for combined sciences at GCSE. In my experience only the brightest, most able students are entered for single science GCSEs so they tend to get very high grades. As the brightest students there should be a high proportion of A*-C grades. The cohort taking single science papers isn't representative of the national cohort.

NymphadoraTonks Wed 03-Oct-12 15:33:21

My younger sister did A Level physics. She had quite a few girls in her class too. Shame that seems to be unusual!

LittleFrieda Wed 03-Oct-12 15:55:47

That advert is very depressing. I hope my six year old daughter chooses to study sciences at A level as both my sons have.

strictlovingmum Wed 03-Oct-12 16:01:51

DS also doing Physics at A level (A2) , 24 boys split into two groups, no girls whatsoever, also worth mentioning Physics at A level is very Mech.Maths heavy, so hard going over all.
I remember when we went for a open evening and had a look around his current (excellent) Sixth form, we were shown around Physics department and Lab exclusively by current students all of them boys.
I don't like this current concept/trend at all, it promotes unhealthy wide gender gap in the field of Physical Science and it falsely paints the very inaccurate picture, boys being "Superior beings, only ones fit to study such hard and demanding subject/Physics.
It has to change.

Durab Wed 03-Oct-12 16:06:24

I did A-level physics, I was one of 3 girls in my O-Level physics class and and the only girl at A-level, although it was small class, only 6 of us altogether.

This was 20+ years ago, but even then I honestly don't think it was because girls were encouraged less or had less opportunity. I was the A-level teacher's favourite by far because I loved his subject and was good at it. He probably gave me far more attention that he did the boys, but that was because they were less enthusiastic, nothing to do with gender. Other girls just didn't feel that way about it and chose A-level subjects they were interested in. Isn't that how it's supposed to be?

My question would, be why does it matter if girls don't do physics? Provided the opportunity is there if they want to (which it was IME 20+ years ago) why should they do a subject they just aren't interested in? Some girls (and boys) like football, others don't. That's just a fact, it doesn't need solving. Sometimes men and women are different and like different things, that's a fact too. Today there are plenty of opportunities for women (and men) who want to work outside of traditional gender roles, that doesn't mean we should insist that everyone does or should want to.

Lilymaid Wed 03-Oct-12 16:08:29

Is there any point taking physics though if you don't want to do a physics degree/become a physics teacher?

DS took it for A level - he's an economist now. The City loves people who are numerate and who have A Levels/degrees in numerate subjects.

Anyway, I can't see the problem with taking a "hard" A level that deals with the meaning of life, the universe ....

DD took physics because there wasn't a third Maths A level she could do, and it was the least worst option of the rest of her choices grin. Mind you, she's dropped a maths course at university for quantum physics "because it's easier" confused.

cakeandcustard Wed 03-Oct-12 16:16:47

I did Physics A-level and I loved it. I think its horrendous that as soon as you start discussing it all the old stereotypical views about it being not for girls and dry/abstract, for people in 'sensible shoes' hmm. Half the problem is that the female population are persuading themselves out of studying the subject.

I think boys are encouraged from a young age to play with moving cars and constructing lego and electronics kits in a way girls aren't. If we gave girls bits of wire and batteries to play with they'd probably get a better feel for it later on. My dad did a degree in Physics and explained how things work to us from a very early age - he found it fascinating therefore so did I, I suppose.

Maths is much more dry and abstract and there's about a 50-50 split studying that at undergraduate level.

minipie Wed 03-Oct-12 16:17:26

I did A level Physics. Not for career or degree reasons but because I think it's great.

My school had about 12 girls out of a year group of 90 something taking Physics. I think 2 of the 12 went on to do it at university (though I agree it's still useful/interesting even if it's not leading to a Physics based degree or career). Pretty good statistics.

But then, mine was an all girls school. So I guess it reinforces the conclusion that it's about girls "dumbing down", particularly in "geeky" or traditionally "male" subjects, in mixed sex schools sad

<adds another mental reason to send DD to an all female school>

minipie Wed 03-Oct-12 16:18:37

My dad did a degree in Physics and explained how things work to us from a very early age - he found it fascinating therefore so did I, I suppose.

me too cake!

I loved Maths too. Is there really a 50/50 split at undergrad level in Maths? That surprises me, at my uni there were way more boys.

maillotjaune Wed 03-Oct-12 16:21:45

When I was in the 6th form several of the girls who were studying sciences were given the chance to go on a Women in Science and Engineering thing at Imperial College. Does anyone know if they still exist or if there is a similar organisation these days?

I don't really understand why girls don't want to do physics, it's very depressing really.

wanderingalbatross Wed 03-Oct-12 16:26:50

I'm an engineer, and have always found myself in a minority, but never the only female. e.g. when I did a-level physics, there were 2/8 in the class, and me and the other girl were the best in the class so all the boys respected us. Never bothered me that I was in a minority, but I have quite a stubborn streak and tend to do stuff anyway.

I love being able to do practical stuff and get paid for it, and I never found any of the physics/maths too dry and abstract. I think it is elegant and very satisfying to be able to put lots of different complicated ideas together in an equation or two smile

I do some science outreach as part of my job, but to an adult audience. I'd love to get involved in outreach with teenagers, especially girls, as I remember that some of the courses and events I did as a teenage girl really helped me decide what field to go into. Does anyone know of anything I can get involved in?

Oh, and I like shoes and maths grin

Albatross - are you a member of a professional body? I know mine (Royal Society of Chemistry) gets involved in a lot of outreach activities, even if you aren't a member of one worth looking at the website of the one that is most relevant to your area. I'd like to do it too, maybe when the DCs are older and I have more time on my hands.

alibeenherealongtime Wed 03-Oct-12 16:30:54

DD did Physics, there were 3 in her class ( indy) and Fast maths - A2 in a year and got an A grade, dropped further maths as didn't need it and decided it was hard work!

She was told to apply for Cambridge as she would get in on low grades as a girl, but she said she did it because she enjoyed it not wanted to do it for the future. She did French at Uni.

Rollersara Wed 03-Oct-12 16:31:34

I did physics A-level because I was good at it, then went on to do a physics degree. I reckon both A-level and degree classes were about 60/40 men/women. Sad that this seems to have changed.

I used to hate it when people described physics as "unimaginative" or "umcreative" - where else would you learn about the basic constituents of matter in one and in the next, how galaxies are born? Also stood me in great stead for employment, now a sciene writer!

sciencelover Wed 03-Oct-12 16:32:05

Physics is a very interesting subject, which I'd recommend for anyone interested, regardless of what they plan to do with life. Girls are often very good at Maths, so that shouldn't be a barrier. Myself, I absolutely love maths and absolutely loves the mysteries of the universe, so there probably wasn't a single subject that was a better fit for me.

It never bothered me that there weren't more females in my Physics classes, but I would certainly encourage girls to look into the subject just because of how interesting it is.

crazymum53 Wed 03-Oct-12 16:34:29

Women in Science and engineering does still exist - look up AWISE. They do have some local groups.
Interesting debate. I did a level Physics, Maths and Chemistry at all girls school in the 1980s. Then Science degree in Chemistry and PGCE.
Interestingly I did an independent study as part of my PGCE on this very topic. Most of the education research at the time (early 90s) was that the following factors encouraged girls to take up Science are: all girls schools or teaching groups, girls whose fathers (or indeed mothers) who work in Science or engineering are more likely to study science. However the other factors were to do with the way that Science is taught. Girls are more likely to be interested in people rather than things so as Physics is usually about how things work this usually appeals more to boys. Biology tends to be more closely related to people and animals so tends to appeal more to girls. There were ideas in the research about how to make Physics more girl-friendly but this obviously has not been put into action.

wanderingalbatross Wed 03-Oct-12 16:35:08

whoknows I'm not a member of a professional body, but I'll take a look at the relevant ones to see what they're up to smile Also not sure how much time I have on my hands due to small kids, but I like doing (too much) stuff!

Rollersara Wed 03-Oct-12 16:41:06

albatross' you could also try STEMNET?

minipie Wed 03-Oct-12 16:47:59

crazymum I don't think they should try to make Physics more "girl friendly" personally. I think the important thing to remember is that not all girls fit those stereotype. So, even if say 7 out of 10 girls are more interested in people rather than things (and so arguably would be less interested in Physics), 3 out of 10 are the other way round. There should still be encouragement and opportunities for those 3 out of 10. Hope that makes sense.

ouryve Wed 03-Oct-12 16:56:25

How would it be possible to make physics more "girl friendly"? It is what it is.

"Is there any point taking physics though if you don't want to do a physics degree/become a physics teacher?"

Yes and no. I think almost everyone who does STEM subjects at university level does physics (and maths). I believe it was required to have physics to do an engineering undergrad. And I think you'll really struggle without it.

I studied in NZ and my physics class at 6th/7th form had 3 girls, all chinese. It's similar with my engineering class, all the girls are either chinese or indian. At least in NZ, it's a cultural thing where white girls don't consider doing STEM subjects at all. If they do science it's always biology, and maybe chemistry.

minipie Wed 03-Oct-12 17:03:59

She was told to apply for Cambridge as she would get in on low grades as a girl

Whaat? shock

EmmelineGoulden Wed 03-Oct-12 17:04:36

I think making physics more girl friendly could be helpful, but I suspect we'd need a lot of very high quality research to get to something decent instead of the "Science, it's a girl thing" type of marketing schmalz.

In computer science there was some research (back in the 90s) about the way putting certain courses on the first year of a BSc increased the staying on rate of female comp sci students. Things like database courses and human computer interaction (instead of graphics and Icantrememeberwhatelse). It wasn't about changing the content of the degree at all, merely about putting some courses first instead of others. Given most physics courses are probably designed by mainly men it isn't a big step to assume they create courses more likely to appeal to boys.

Overall though, despite the appeal of the stats for single sex schools, I think what the education sector needs to wake up to is that our society is still very sexist when it comes to education. Girls and boys are getting very different messages about school, academics in different subjects, and jobs. Single sex education is only a mask over the underlying problem - that girls and boys are not afforded the same opportunity in our society.

Girls are getting the message that you only need to look pretty and marry rich from a very young age. I despair looking at all the princess toys. It's wonderful during the olympics where we see women celebrated for their achievement. But how long will that last?

GnomeDePlume Wed 03-Oct-12 17:20:02

My DD didnt carry Physics on to A level despite it being one of her A* subjects and despite her wanting to carry on into a science career (Chemistry) quite simply because the subject was so badly taught at her secondary school. Nothing to do with how many girls there were or werent in the class.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Wed 03-Oct-12 17:20:52

Yes it absolutely is worth doing physics if you aren't going to be a physics teacher! I have worked in finance since finishing my degree and the majority of people I worked with did Maths/science/engineering degrees (and the few that didn't had one or more science A levels).

Of course the subject becomes more detail focused as you progress, I think that is true of anything though eg I like being able to order a sandwich in France, less keen on analysing Moliere.

Maybe an overall push is needed about the diversity of careers available from a science background?

Tim Harford wrote in Adapt about how easy it is to "socialise" test results eg women and men in a Maths class who had read a scripted article about how hard their gender found tests on a specific topic then did lots worse when tested on that topic - Of course a "physics is hard, especially for women" meme in society will have an impact.

GrendelsMum Wed 03-Oct-12 17:27:37

There are recurring concerns raised within the science education community that physics is taught 'less well' than biology and chemistry, by which people appear to mean more chalk and talk, and less interactive teaching. (I have to say that I haven't seen any evidence to back this up, but in certain circles its very much a truism.) The word is that many students are likely to enjoy biology in a way that they don't enjoy other A-level sciences, and so opt to take it at 16 without planning to study beyond A-level, whereas physics is chosen only by those who are already thinking about a University course for which physics is a prerequisite.

I wonder whether, if this is the case, whether it does affect gender taking the courses?

Bonsoir Wed 03-Oct-12 17:31:53

I didn't want to carry on with physics at school because it would have meant spending several hours a week in a lab with a hairy teacher with BO and bad breath and an obsession with bicycles and a lot of spotty smelly teenaged boys. Italian with a glamorous lady teacher and fragrant teenaged girls seemed so much more appealing.

GnomeDePlume Wed 03-Oct-12 17:39:05

GrendelsMum for DD it was the style of the teaching. Not a problem with chalk and talk (DD is a keen mathematician) but just the way that the teacher conveyed the information. It sank in but DD was left with a dislike of the subject.

My A level choices (physics, chem, pure maths) were chemistry as I liked it best, maths and physics because I hadn't done O level biology and I didn't think I could handle applied maths as well as pure. So it goes back to O level choices at 14, I chose physics over biology at that point. I think at that stage I was not very in tune with most of my female classmates, I remember feeling frustrated that none of them seemed to have much ambition beyond getting married and having children, perhaps aspiring to be receptionists or work in shops until they had their children (no disrespect to those choices, but they were definitely not for me). Whereas I wanted to go to university and so did a lot of the boys. I think I gravitated towards male dominated subjects as a result, including preferring physics to biology.

GrendelsMum Wed 03-Oct-12 17:44:57

GnomeDePlume - interesting, though I have to say I had the world's least 'chalk and talk' maths teachers, which I guess is why I always enjoyed it so much.

DorisBoltneck Wed 03-Oct-12 17:46:28

My dd did physics, biology and chemistry at A-level and has just gone off the uni. She had a female physics teacher who was very supportive of her and willing to put in lots of time outside of lessons, which I think helped a lot.

She went to a co-ed school.

Mayisout Wed 03-Oct-12 17:53:52

I did physics. It wasn't that hard, memorising equations and then using them as required, though am sure it's different now. The two other girls who were in my class went on to study medicine.

Also you cannot do engineering without physics and there is a WORLDWIDE SHORTAGE OF ENGINEERS - don't think this applies to any other career so girls should definitely do physics.

GnomeDePlume Wed 03-Oct-12 17:57:38

I wonder also if the modular maths teaching has had an impact on general uptake of Physics and Maths for A level?

DD sat her final Maths exam last November. She was then put on a quick stats course. This means that between November last year and the start of AS Maths in September all she has studied is stats. Now I'm not mathematician but I dont think that this is great preparation for maths or science A levels.

I wonder how many students in a similar position lose confidence in their maths before they choose their A levels?

LittleFrieda Wed 03-Oct-12 18:06:49

Of course job adverts like this play their part in the problem.

Stellarpunk Wed 03-Oct-12 18:09:59

grendelsmum I cannot speak for other teachers but in my school that simply isn't true.

I am never a day teaching without one practical or another. Also, physics is surprisingly more popular with those that don't need it than do. For example, most are med candidates or PPE. The minority study Engineering where the very few - i.e 1 or 2 in say 60 odd, do a physics degree. Also, please do not assume that talk and chalk = bad. I have seen very ropy lessons involving PPoint. At the highest of levels - say particle or quantum, I find that discussions work best of all. The great danger is when some teachers may choose to explain a concept via the maths only. It is a great temptation.

Please note that I do teach in a state selective.

LittleFrieda Wed 03-Oct-12 18:11:30

And this one in fact the only one where they use a woman is this one, and look what they do to her fgs

Stellarpunk Wed 03-Oct-12 18:14:32

I didn't want to carry on with physics at school because it would have meant spending several hours a week in a lab with a hairy teacher with BO and bad breath and an obsession with bicycles and a lot of spotty smelly teenaged boys. Italian with a glamorous lady teacher and fragrant teenaged girls seemed so much more appealing.


I really loved physics. You would have to to get past the above. That makes people like me in the minority. However it is a negative feedback loop - the less women involved, the less women want to get involved.

And don't even get me started about the EU's recent "It's a girl thing" campaign.angry

Stellarpunk Wed 03-Oct-12 18:15:49

frieda Oh dear lord [shakes head in bafflement]

Stellarpunk Wed 03-Oct-12 18:18:26
GrimmaTheNome Wed 03-Oct-12 18:20:22

Part of the reason for the dearth of girls doing physics A level is the small number of subjects allowed. Girls who are thinking of a science-based career are, I think, more likely to tend to the biological and medical sciences. So Biology and Chemistry are essential; then if you're only allowed 3 A levels maths is probably a better choice than physics. Ideally you would be allowed to do all 3 sciences plus maths. In my day we could only do 4 if they were chemistry, physics, pure maths and applied maths - which, as wanted to do a chemistry degree suited me fine. All the other girls doing sciences did chem, biol and maths with stats. So I was the only girl in the school doing physics, the only one in my set doing chemistry and one other girl did the double maths. Fortunately it didn't bother me at all as I was better than the lads.

But I'm glad my DD decided to go to a girls' GS with a science specialism. They all do triple science GCSE and lots of them go on to do sciences, I think quite a few are allowed to do 4 subjects all the way to A level. AFAIK they have good science teachers (several with PhDs) in all subjects. She's going to do electronics and computer science GCSEs too, lucky child! She's almost bound to head towards some sort of science or engineering career.

>I used to hate it when people described physics as "unimaginative" or "uncreative"

Scientists are the most creative people there are. We know that, don't worry about people who say things like this, they are just exposing their own sad ignorance and shallowness.

nutellaontoast Wed 03-Oct-12 18:21:18

There were a lot of girls in my A-level physics class, but then the school was very strong on science anyway.

FairPhyllis Wed 03-Oct-12 18:22:59

My education experiences:

State mixed primary in the north east 1989-1993: don't remember doing any science at all. This may have had something to do with the fact that in 1st and 3rd years we did NO MATHS and so 2nd and 4th years were spent desperately trying to get us up to speed on maths.

Selective independent girls' school 1993-2000: hugely science-oriented and with no shortage of girls doing science. All our science teachers were women. I would say that about half of my year group went on to do science, medicine or maths at university. I think at A Level Chemistry was the most widely studied science subject and Physics the least, but there was still a healthy number of people doing Physics. I think (but couldn't swear to it) that we all had to do all three sciences at GCSE - I certainly did - which I'm sure has a huge effect - do state schools still do that weird dual science thing?

Raise your sons and daughters to be feminists and send your daughters to single sex schools, is my motto.

Stellarpunk Wed 03-Oct-12 18:23:07

grimma very cool! Good on your DD!

nutella this is exactly the kind of thing the IOP are referencing in their report today - how to create a self-sustaining culture.

Stellarpunk Wed 03-Oct-12 18:24:17

Phyllis [nods sagely] I am beginning to tumble to the single sex route too (Have a DD and a DS)

Stellarpunk Wed 03-Oct-12 18:27:03

LRD asked

"Does anyone know what the gender distribution of teachers is?"

No idea! But, I know I am incredibly rare [preens]

Not only am I a female physics teacher - I am a female physics teacher with a pure physics degree. Just physics grads are in the tiny minority - most are engineers of some sort or another.


Thank you for the info!

That is a pity about physics teachers with physics degrees - I'm sure engineers could be great teachers (I'm not knocking engineering), but you'd wish more people wanted to teach.

Knowsabitabouteducation Wed 03-Oct-12 18:30:37

I teach A-level Physics in a girls' school.

We don't have any inhibitions about being female and doing physics. The main impediment to the subject is that there are very few 'must have physics' as a career choice. Mostly it is seen as a great facilitating subject. If students are going for a mixed arts/science portfolio, they will tend to go for Chemistry, as the central science.

I personally think that Physics is by far the easiest of the three sciences, especially if taken just to AS-level

I think what we really need to do is to promote Engineering as a valid and exciting career choice for women. If nothing else, it is a fantastic degree which will open doors.

GrimmaTheNome Wed 03-Oct-12 18:31:01

>do state schools still do that weird dual science thing?

Some private schools do it too, you know. hmm
The norm is for the top set(s) to do triple and lower sets do double. One supposedly excellent private girls school I know of only offers double science - that really is appalling.

Stellarpunk Wed 03-Oct-12 18:32:05

and another one from me then I'll stop

upthread orangeandgold said

That the problem with Physics, sexist though it is, that sort of dry abstract detail doesn't hold most girls concentration.

With the very greatest of respect, I am going to call you on this - what is so inherently different about the female brain that struggles with the maths? I humbly suggest you had a p* poor lecturer and that many physics lectures at degree are entirely chalk and talk with no two way reciprocity.

But that aside - that is degree and this is A Level.

GrimmaTheNome Wed 03-Oct-12 18:38:04

>I think what we really need to do is to promote Engineering as a valid and exciting career choice for women

'Engineering' encompasses a huge variety of career choices, some probably more attractive to women than others.

sciencelover Wed 03-Oct-12 18:43:35

Female Physicists and engineers are not infrequently among the best students in their classes. What this says to me is that a female who thinks she will only be mediocre in the subjects is likely to pursue a different field of study.

GrimmaTheNome Wed 03-Oct-12 18:44:21

>That the problem with Physics, sexist though it is, that sort of dry abstract detail doesn't hold most girls concentration.

If its not holding the girls' concentration, it wont be holding the boys' either.

Is there any breakdown of results? I would take a small bet that of the girls who do do physics, more get good grades than boys. Girls who do it are likely to have the ability and motivation; boys are, I suspect, likely to have more of a mix of ability from excellent to scrape-throughs. There were an awful lot of boys in my physics class who got poor grades but they would probably have fared no better, or worse, in essay subjects.

Stellarpunk Wed 03-Oct-12 18:55:43

grimma - yeah there should be data on this in the IOP's site. Will go a hunting. :D

Lavenderhoney Wed 03-Oct-12 19:05:27

My personal experience of this is not being allowed to take physics at school as the subject was popular with boys and there simply wasn't space for a girl even if, like me, she was good at it, liked it and wanted to learn more. I was told I could do art or history instead. The teacher explained I was more likely to waste the place by getting married and not working, so it was important to support the boys. This was a secondary school comp in the mid eighties in Surrey. Lovely.

EllenJaneisstillnotmyname Wed 03-Oct-12 19:16:00

Ooh, a physics thread! I did Physics A level, along with Maths and English. confused I was the only girl in a class of 8 doing Physics, and there was only one boy in a class of 16 doing English. This was in a bog standard large comprehensive with its own sixth form. One of the reasons I did Physics was because it was seen to be a boys' subject. I was always contrary and rather feminist.

I went on to do a degree in Physics in the middle of the eighties. There were 4 girls out of 60 students. (And I agree with the poster above, the odds were good, but the goods were odd! grin ) My best friend was doing a maths degree, with a 50/50 gender split.

My STBEX has a maths degree, and we have one DS with ASD, one geeky DS and one very quirky DS. So that's one reason why girls shouldn't do Physics, they are more likely to breed with a geek! grin I'm allowed to say this!

ithinkimightbegoingmad Wed 03-Oct-12 19:20:37

my physics teacher at school told my parents 'ithink will never be a scientist, its not her forte'. i took physics and biology gcse but did chemistry at night school. i started art a levels but dropped out at age 16. i returned to education later; i now have a BSC (hons) 2:1 and an /MSc; i have been an engineer for 7 years smile

to be fair, physics was really boring at school (teachers fault? 1970s-80s education?) it wasnt until later that i realised how interesting and relevant physics is

in my experience/opinion, it is about how physics is delivered; it doesnt need to be girlie hmm just relevant to life....and as it is sooooo relevant to almost everything, isnt it a bit of a teaching travesty that more people arent interested? confused

GrimmaTheNome Wed 03-Oct-12 19:27:47

Lavender and ithink - what appalling attitudes sad. At least the sheer discrimination LH suffered wouldn't be allowed now (would it?).

I was probably fortunate that, apart from not just being good I was usually best (I need a big-head emoticon, but its true), and my dad was a chemistry teacher so I didn't get sexist crap - science obviously ran in the family.

Silibilimili Wed 03-Oct-12 19:37:03

I did physics, chemistry and Maths ( pure and applied) @ a level. Love all of them except organic chemistry as it was so hard to remember all the nomenclature.
We had 3 girls in the physics class and 2 in Maths. Chemistry had a little better ratio.
My first day at uni. I was the only girl and 50 or so boys.
I got the mik taken out of in lab exercises. Usual boy/girl tension and a little sexism.
Has made me what I am today.
A very successful engineer.grin

DazR Wed 03-Oct-12 19:45:45

My eldest DD took Physics at A Level (also Maths, Chemistry and German). She is now doing a masters degree in Mechanical Engineering - currently on a one year placement with a top car company. She is having a GREAT time. It is a male dominated domain but this isn't phasing her at all. Tomorrow she is 'off-roading' with her new dept (team building). She is really enjoying being surrounded by like-minded individuals.

DazR Wed 03-Oct-12 19:47:49

Just to add - my daughter went to a standard co-ed secondary school - and the local sixth form college.

EcoLady Wed 03-Oct-12 19:56:22

I did a study on girls' views on science as part of my teacher training. By the end of Primary it is already established in children's minds that science is seen as more suitable for boys than girls. The difference in views gets wider and wider as they progress through secondary. The girls who do study science tend to favour biology. Boys tend to not do biology.

Lots of different theories as to the source of this. One idea is that pre-school games and activities at home are different - boys build stuff and girls cuddle pets. Media projects the stereotype of the 'mad scientist' being a middle-aged man in a white coat with test tubes... Ask any primary-aged child to draw you a scientist :-)

There are also theories of differences in brain functions that support boys being better at recall of theory and facts, which means that they find physics easier than girls do.

Another theory is simply that the majority of primary teachers are female and very few teachers are scientists. So girls do not see female scientific role models, so the cycle continues.

I have a science background (albeit biology!). When I was doing my research the class teacher I worked with also had a scientific background. When I conducted the Draw a Scientist Test, the boys drew the stereotype, but the girls all drew women. Maybe there is hope to break the mould, one class at a time grin

Sausageeggbacon Wed 03-Oct-12 20:01:28

DD is studying Astro-physics at Uni as she want's to be an astronomer. However the only other female studying is from Latvia the rest are boys.

She has been very inspired with the documentary's involving NASA as the scientists being interviewed have been 40% female especially in how the universe works.

She has had problems even in a single sex school as she has been determined to be an astronomer for quite some time but the school struggled to engage her interest. A lot of home study got her through the A level but the fact we had to spend a lot of time with her. Just glad XH has a big interest in astronomy as my A levels were Eng Lit and History.

OwedToAutumn Wed 03-Oct-12 20:02:46

I went to the open day of a girls school a few years ago with DD1. The physics teacher we spoke to was waxing lyrical about how great it was that the girls discovered the science was something girls could "do".

DD1 was nonplussed. As she went to a single sex primary school, the idea that science was for boys was just foreign to her.

I loved being the only girl in my a level physics and in my a level maths (there was a girl in the other maths class who was cleverer than me) Made me feel determined! However, one of my physics teachers (had two) was very discouraging and disparaging to me, unlike the other teacher. Served me well in my career before dd where there was only one other woman in my dept. most of my colleagues were great but I did have issues with one or two....

noblegiraffe Wed 03-Oct-12 20:15:24

I do wonder whether this cartoon has nailed it. Just go to your local Boots store and look at the shelf labelled 'Girls Toys' with its paint your own teasets and make your own bracelet kits alongside princess dolls, then look at the shelf labelled 'Boys Toys' with chemistry sets and microscopes and build a volcano kits. Seriously a problem.

ziptoes Wed 03-Oct-12 20:23:39


all I have to say is have a look at this cartoon, then read www.cordeliafine.com/delusions_of_gender.html

ziptoes Wed 03-Oct-12 20:26:35

Hadn't read your post noblegiraffe - your cartoon is better! (fellow geek, I wonder?)

Everyone still needs to read Cordelia Fine though....

ouryve Wed 03-Oct-12 20:35:35

Hah! Ellenjane - I did physics O-level because I had a horribly sexist teacher in 3rd year who said girls were useless at physics. I had to go prove him wrong grin I wanted to do medicine at the time, so was going to take Chemistry and Biology anyhow. I ended up keeping up all 3 sciences, plus maths with mechanics at A-level. I did start off at med school, but realised I didn't actually want to be a doctor, so transferred to a Chemistry degree, which I really loved, especially the analytical and organic stuff. Those of us who already had a decent grade at maths A-level had to spend a year doing further maths with the joys of differential equations and iterative methods and all sorts of stuff I can't remember how to do.

DH is a geek - he did Physics, maths, some further maths and computing science at A level and is a software geek. Both of our boys have ASD, so yes, breeding was very dangerous for us!

ouryve Wed 03-Oct-12 20:50:31

noblegiraffe - that sums it up so well. Had to tweet that one!

MrAnchovy Wed 03-Oct-12 20:52:16

One word in the headline that doesn't seem to have received much focus is "state". I wonder what the comparative figure for co-ed public schools is, and if it is less alarming whether any lessons can be learned from this.

Alliwantisaroomsomewhere Wed 03-Oct-12 21:00:14

Going back to the part of the discussion regarding introducing physics earlier in schools, DS now aged 7, had been doing physics from reception. What I don't understand, though, is that his school has one "Science Week" a term. They do not look at things scientific throughout the school year - or so it seemed to me.

LadyInDisguise Wed 03-Oct-12 21:02:01

That all starts in primary school in my experience with the expectations of the teachers themselves.

When said (good!) teacher is telling me 'Oh it's normal dc1 is struggling a bit more with english, that's because he is a boy. Girls usually find that easier' or 'Oh yes boys will always find maths/science easier' and then look at me as if I don't know what I am talking about if I am saying that I disagree with it... then there is no surprise that 'girls don't do physics'.

I have pointed out that if girls were so bad at maths or physics then I would never have become an engineer but apparently I should have known that there IS a difference and it's harder for girls hmm

blueemerald Wed 03-Oct-12 21:07:26

Just for a reference point: at the local private girls' school to me (in London) 22% of the 6th form girls did Physics (21 students/95) and the only subjects with a higher level of entry were biology, english, history, french and maths. Chemistry was equal to Physics.

Romilly70 Wed 03-Oct-12 21:10:26

I went to an all girls (grammar) school and there were 3 classes in my year doing physics.
It was really hard and i didn't do math a-level either

harbingerofdoom Wed 03-Oct-12 21:20:22

I find it quite worrying that DD2 and her friend at University both took part in a very good engineering competition about 3 years ago in the lower 6th and neither of them has gone into engineering. This competition required teams of four. I'm pretty sure that DD and her friend (didn't even know each other) would have been the only girls around. At the presentation it was 99% male.
Oh, she did maths,physics,chem.for A level and AS pure?maths.
I came a cropper doing A level physics because I didn't have the maths. It's a bit odd but I did 'O' level at 14 as an experiment,then add maths the next year. I had a year of no maths and then I moved schools.
You really need maths and physics.
Don't drop the maths.

BackforGood Wed 03-Oct-12 21:29:09

My niece just did physics A-level. She considered it a bonus that there were more boys than girls in the class, just as my ds does that he is in a considerable minority of boys in his Drama A-level.
Surely all youngsters should be encouraged to do what they enjoy / are good at.
I donn't think any teenager I know, who is capable of doing A-levels, would honestly think any subject is a 'boys' or 'girls' subject. Seems a pretty outdated notion to me.
My Mum was the only girl in her A-level classes back in the 1940s, but she still did the subjects she enjoyed, because they were her best subjects. Surely the world has moved on ?

Bilbobagginstummy Wed 03-Oct-12 21:30:01

The shortage of physics teachers who actually have physics degrees is a longstanding problem, but I think physics education is the poorer for the retirement a few years ago of Brenda Jennison, who for many years trained physics teachers (at Cambridge).

I was a physics PGCE student of hers and though I didn't go in to teaching in the end, she remains one of the best educationalists I have encountered. Brenda was very keen on the "wonder and delight" of the natural world as encountered and studied through physics. In fact, I'm sure she still is!

I did physics A-level, a physics degree and though I don't now use the subject knowledge in my work, every day I use the intellectual skills I started to develop in studying physics.

GrimmaTheNome Wed 03-Oct-12 21:32:38

>You really need maths and physics.
>Don't drop the maths.

ITA - so FGS let all bright science-type kids do both of those and chem and biol (or chem and geog if they're earthscience types). 3 is not enough

panicnotanymore Wed 03-Oct-12 21:38:26

I did A Level physics - was one of 3 girls in a class with 25 boys in a co-ed state school. All 3 girls got grade A, and none of the boys did... which was interesting...

I hate to say it but physics just wasn't popular amongst the girls in my school. The teaching was fine, no bias towards boys. There was no stigma attached to taking it - I was not thought of as weird. The lessons were all fair as well, if anything the teachers were marginally more accessible to the girls, who were (in my class anyway) more focussed and better students.

I would probably have avoided physics like the plague if I'd had to go to a special single sex class. I mean wtf is that about? I can see it now - 'the weirdy weird lesbo class for nerds'. Yup, how to fit in.... not.

Sometimes society should just accept that certain subjects have a greater appeal to each sex. It doesn't mean there aren't many very talented women scientists out there, but it does mean that fewer women are drawn to physics as a career choice.

LizzieMint73 Wed 03-Oct-12 21:41:11

I was one of 4 girls who did A Level Physics in 1992 in a class of about 18, normal state secondary school. Our teacher was a very glamourous woman in her 50s - she was probably even more in the minority as she would have studied in the 60s?

I now work in a science based career where the preferred degree is physics, although mine is chemistry. My profession probably has about twice as many men as women but we still get plenty of female physics graduates applying and being employed.

It would be nice if more girls considered science as a career, but I fear that any attempts to encourage women and girls into scientific careers will be of the patronising and stereotypical 'its a girl thing type'

ouryve Wed 03-Oct-12 21:46:41

Btw - I've had this thread open for a bit and the tab says 1/2 of all stat...

My brain is automatically finishing off ...istics are made up grin

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Wed 03-Oct-12 21:51:21

Panic I will push for society to accept that some subjects just appeal more to one sex than the other when, for example, M&S stops marketing a giant magnet solely under its "Boys' Stuff" label.

motherinferior Wed 03-Oct-12 21:54:08

I am still PMSL at the assertion that geeky boys don't want girlfriends. They may not be very good at getting girlfriends but, er, the Urge is there. (Apart from the ones who want boyfriends, obviously.)

grin Yeah, my experience of lovely geeky lads as a teen was, erm, not exactly that their minds were on higher things!

EmmelineGoulden Wed 03-Oct-12 21:56:27

panic if there is no bias pushing girls one way or the other, and boys and girls are only choosing the subjects they like and are good at with no social pressure, why are girls at single sex schools more likely to do physics than girls at co-ed schools?

weblette Wed 03-Oct-12 21:57:26

Looking at the results for dd's single sex grammar school, 16 studied Physics last year - all passed, majority with A* or A. At the local boys grammar they had 53 students, again majority A*/A.

At the nearest non-selective there were just 6 students, the highest grade achieved was B. Neither of the other two local upper schools list the individual subject results but very few male or female study any of the sciences past GCSE. Whether or not that's down to the fact that none of them offer single sciences, instead opting for combined, I don't know.

Certainly round here it would seem your gender has less to with advanced level study than whether the school is selective or not.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Wed 03-Oct-12 22:02:05

I do agree that offering single sciences not combined at GCSE would be a big factor.

harbingerofdoom Wed 03-Oct-12 22:06:12

Grimma, my DD would have loved to do geog/geol but her 4th AS had to be maths.
My DF still goes on about how important maths is-and he is right.
I really believe that unless we get the maths sorted, there will not be the numbers needed to diversify.
TBH why do the hardest subjects and earn half as much as a medic?

prettydaisies Wed 03-Oct-12 22:12:58

DD does physics, further maths, geography and English lit. She is one of three girls in physics and the only girl in her further maths class. Geography is about half and half and English lit more girls than boys!
She is hoping to do earth sciences at university.

harbingerofdoom Wed 03-Oct-12 22:22:49

prettyd what your DD is doing would not have been possible in DD's school. Many schools still can't do a science/arts mix on the timetable.
Is your DD in the state system?

kim147 Wed 03-Oct-12 22:23:53

It's interesting that biology is not seen as male subject. I did a MSc in Clinical Biochemistry which was 90% female.

ClaudiaCardinale Wed 03-Oct-12 22:27:29

I am studying for a BSc in physics and I would say about 20% of my fellow students are female.

geegee888 Wed 03-Oct-12 22:38:19

Is there any point taking physics though if you don't want to do a physics degree/become a physics teacher?

Yes, you need it to get into dentistry, medicine and engineering. I did it at Higher, and Highers in Physcis, Biology and Chemistry are really essential for getting into those courses. Since the majority of medical students are now female and increasing, it seems bizarre that this is an increasing concern, because clearly plenty of girls are succeeding in these subjects and getting into medical and dental degrees.

Its a fantastic subject, much more interesting than Biology and even better than Chemistry, which is pretty interesting. Its the background for understanding so many other subjects and applications.

What I've noticed is that in the UK at the moment, there seems to be a bizarre trend for thinking women shouldn't work, and all this nonsense thinking about women and Physics is part of it. Its like something out of the 19th Century. If you look at some of the posts on here, you will see what I mean. Its possibly a minority thing, exacerbated by those on the internet being more representative of the group as a whole. But obviously if you have parents who think like that, they are not likely to produce that many female children who buck the trend and want to study subjects like physics, when they have been brought up to aspire to not working.

I distinctly remember my mother telling the school "my daughter will not be wasting her school hours doing Home Economics and will be using the period for extra academic study instead" - they didn't argue with her.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Wed 03-Oct-12 22:45:14

Umm - what, geegee?? Sure by definition a site called mumsnet will have majority posts from mums and mums with more time might make more posts, but SAHMs on MN usually worked first and may well work again in due course. I have rarely seen a "women shouldn't work" post on here, any that are a bit like that usually get shouted down.

ithinkimightbegoingmad Wed 03-Oct-12 22:47:39

what trend of thinking women shouldnt work? who thinks that? confused

cerealqueen Wed 03-Oct-12 22:48:19

I really enjoyed physics and wanted to do physics O level but my mum said your brother found it hard, how on earth do you think you'll cope???

So I didn't do it. I still find it fascinating though and it would be great to answer DDs questions of why how etc with a bit of authority!!

morethanpotatoprints Wed 03-Oct-12 22:48:39

Unless I am missing something here, surely if girls aren't interested in Physics they aren't going to choose it.
I'm all for encouraging all subjects but after that its their choice. Whats to say that some girls who take Physics or any other subject are not influenced by parents attitude/ mum or Dad did it, think I should or expect me to and they choose the subject. Its not always a negative that parents, peers or society have put their dcs off a subject.
There is no way I would have taken it as I found it so boring, so did my ds's and no doubt dd too. I think they should learn the basics as any other subject but don't see it as any more important than any other subject, including home economics.

ithinkimightbegoingmad Wed 03-Oct-12 22:48:51

there are plenty of mums on this site who are doctors/ engineers etc geegee myself included

cerealqueen Wed 03-Oct-12 22:50:19

Geegee - home economics is equally important, everybody should learn how to run a home and feed themselves well. Everybody.

harbingerofdoom Wed 03-Oct-12 22:53:31

That's the problem, physics is not a requirement for medicine or dentistry. If it was needed,some of them might have become engineers!

nailak Wed 03-Oct-12 23:03:26

how can you not do science at primary school?
you never learnt about materials? glass/wood/natural/man made?
floating and sinking?
the water cycle?
ecosystems? caterpillar turns in to butterfly etc?

GrimmaTheNome Wed 03-Oct-12 23:04:48

Harbinger and prettyd - I know a young lady who did geog, phys, maths and (I think) Eng Lit, but anyway I'm sure her 4th A level was an Arts subject at a state school (excellent coed comp). She's just started a geog degree at camb. and wants to specialise in glaciology and the geography of other planets - easy to see how physics goes with that ambition! smile

kim147 Wed 03-Oct-12 23:05:22

Pretty sure we do science at primary school. But we ruin it by focussing too much on fair tests and "investigations" rather than just doing interesting stuff.

GrimmaTheNome Wed 03-Oct-12 23:07:36

nailak - all that stuff is on the NC now (not sure if its staying there...). If anyones kids aren't being taught it at the moment there's something wrong.

I don't remember doing much science at primary when I was at school, but that was in the 60s.

GrimmaTheNome Wed 03-Oct-12 23:09:25

kim...I am rather impressed by the emphasis on 'fair tests'. Understanding the scientific method - even for non-scientists - is surely very important.

selclare Wed 03-Oct-12 23:11:25

I found physics really boring at school. I was really interested in chemistry myself, but my school didn't do A Levels in Chemistry so i couldn't do that. I can't recall if they even did Physics as an A Level without having to change schools (quite a few subjects required a change of sixth form for certain subjects and that wasn't something most of us fancied doing at that age). It was bad enough doing GCSE Double Science, when ideally i'd have liked to have chosen a specific part of Science to study, let alone then considering doing the as an A-Level in a specific area having never got the opportunity to study it in that much detail before...and i was in a top set (apparently that meant i was intelligent...so intelligent i refused to do the higher GCSE paper & opted to do the foundation paper. If it was in chemistry then fine, but the thought of getting a load of physics questions scared me enough into the refusal). School set ups were all wrong then. Not sure how they are now. This was 12 years ago!

harbingerofdoom Wed 03-Oct-12 23:11:26

excellent coed comp , quite, how many of those around. Most 6th forms locally can't do a timetable mix like that.

kim147 Wed 03-Oct-12 23:12:23

It gets too much at year 2 and year 3. I think at that age science should just be more about finding out, recording and observing. Not "what do we keep the same, what do we change".

It's important when they get older - say year 4 onwards.

geegee888 Wed 03-Oct-12 23:13:29

Geegee - home economics is equally important, everybody should learn how to run a home and feed themselves well. Everybody

Oh, I've learnt that all right. And how to paint, tile and do rather a lot of DIY. I can also sew. I just didn't see the point of learning it in school time, its not an academic subject, and my immediate future was university, not running a home and baking. So glad I refused to do it, and never, ever regretted it.

Actually, thinking back, I wanted to do Physics at O grade (Scottish equivent of O level) and wasn't allowed to by my mum ( a teacher) who said that it didn't fit alongside my other options of French, German and music ( only had four options, plus English and maths). So I ended up doing history ( which I loved) but no science beyond the age of 13. Which is really sad.

kim147 Wed 03-Oct-12 23:17:21

I think the new English Bacc will have all 3 sciences in it.

GrimmaTheNome Wed 03-Oct-12 23:17:34

>That's the problem, physics is not a requirement for medicine or dentistry. If it was needed,some of them might have become engineers!

I doubt it... engineers do not have the right status in this country. Its one of the big problems with this economy. If you're a kid capable of doing science A levels, you may well prefer medicine - extremely well paid by the taxpayer, and if you're a woman, it can be relatively family-friendly - rather than a less well paid, far less secure, undervalued career as an engineer - but engineers, and scientists, are the people more than any who earn money for the country by making stuff we can sell. Its totally arse about face. Germany values engineers... look at their export industries. Sorry, I digress.

TheFallenMadonna Wed 03-Oct-12 23:20:33

We have girls. Both our physics teachers are women though. In fact, 3/4 of the Science department are women, including all the TLR holders.

I find primary physics sometimes embeds those misconceptions though really, in answer in Bonsoir's post right at the beginning of the thread. I have to quickly shut my DC's Science book on Parents' evenings. I would like to see more Science-trained primary teachers though. That would be fabulous!

TheFallenMadonna Wed 03-Oct-12 23:22:07

All students in England and Wales do all three sciences to 16 now. There are a variety of different courses, but they all comprise Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

geegee888 Wed 03-Oct-12 23:25:52

Harbinger That's the problem, physics is not a requirement for medicine or dentistry. If it was needed,some of them might have become engineers

Actually in Scotland, where its common to do 6-8 Highers for medicine or dentistry, physics is standard. As for engineering, I live in a city which employs a lot of engineers, and have met several very highly paid ones who don't have degrees - whats going on there?!

GrimmaTheNome Wed 03-Oct-12 23:28:22

> I would like to see more Science-trained primary teachers though. That would be fabulous!

There was someone on the radio recently - I've forgotten the details but I think he was a scientist who was very into enthusing children - who was suprised when one of his students said she was going into teaching primary...but then he realised how great it was.

DDs primary had a teacher who specialised in science. And one who was a mathematician. Both women so there was no 'girls find maths/science hard' claptrap there! (we've been very lucky)

It strikes me that this idea could attract more girls into continuing science - traditional academic/industry science/eng careers are notoriously family-unfriendly (mine is a wonderful exception, maybe some of you too) - but primary teaching has to be one of the most family-friendly around.

ithinkimightbegoingmad Wed 03-Oct-12 23:31:35

geegee I work with a number of engineers who don't have degrees-they started on site. One in particularly, started as an apprentice spark and worked up to design consultant. You wont find a better electrical engineer. I dont think the academic is the only valid route

GrimmaTheNome Wed 03-Oct-12 23:35:48

geegee - it will depend to some extent on age (there used to be more learn on the job/HNC type routes - in science even if you go further back) and on what type of engineer. Electrical engineer yes -electronic or chemical engineer, less likely I'd have thought.

TheFallenMadonna Wed 03-Oct-12 23:36:35

I don't think it's any more family friendly than secondary, although thinking about it, you are more likely to get sensible part time hours.

Trouble is, most primary teachers seem to do BEd rather than BSc PGCE. And while there's a lot to be said for generalists in primary, at the risk of sounding like Gove, a C grade Science GCSE is no real indicator of genuine scientific understanding...

BackforGood Wed 03-Oct-12 23:37:22

Really Harbinger ? Where I live doing a combination of science and humanities or arts isn't a problem. Where one school can't do it, they work in cohorts and allow 6th formers to pick up a subject at another school, but the mixing of science and English say, is pretty common.

wanderingalbatross Wed 03-Oct-12 23:40:04

A bit of a tangent, but for those of you who say you were put off Physics for one reason or another but are still interested, can I point you in the direction of https://www.coursera.org/courses smile There aren't many physics courses up there yet, but there are a couple of astronomy ones, and lots of maths, computing etc.

Inertia Wed 03-Oct-12 23:40:30

As a female physics graduate and former physics teacher, I think that part of the problem is that in many schools physics is taught by a non-specialist, even at A-level. A lot of the enthusiasm for any subject is generated when a teacher has an in-depth knowledge of the subject, and can direct and encourage learning which extends the syllabus.

I personally believe the teaching environment can influence whether students choose a subject , and that schools should prioritise well - equipped labs with full sets of working equipment. I wonder whether there could be a gender difference in terms of the degree to which students are put off by inadequate labs ?

I am stunned that some posters think that primary school children should not be learning how to carry out investigations - that's what underpins the whole of science !

duchesse Wed 03-Oct-12 23:44:21

Here's a thought: So many girls are subtly imprinted from birth with notions that "their" territory is pretty, colourful, rounded things- just look at what is marketed as a "girl" toy vs those marketed as "boy" toys even from toddlerhood. "Girl" toys are so much more cosy and domestic and symmetrical, "boy" toys tend to be more industrial and chaotic (think of those Lego transformables) and furthermore challenge building and engineering skills. Even by age 5 most children have a strong notion of what supposed to be interesting to them. Physics appears more industrial and chaotic than other subjects.

By age 14 when serious life choices are being made, it is too late. It is also specious to blame primary schools where the curriculum is the same for everyone, boy or girl.

This gendering crap of the things that very young children play with has a large impact imo.

kim147 Wed 03-Oct-12 23:45:43

inertia - I have no problem with investigations. It just seems that it starts at such a young age rather than just observing, recording and finding out. Rather than doing some very "dry" investigations - such as which rock is permeable. I think primary science could be a whole lot more interesting and exciting - it could really grab the imagination.

I say this as a former scientist and now a primary teacher who has done loads of investigations. I just wish primary science was made to be more interesting.

TheFallenMadonna Wed 03-Oct-12 23:46:38

They should be learning how to do it properly perhaps. Taught by somebody with a good understanding themselves. This is not always the case. I remember being told by my son's teacher in year 2 that he could design a fair test. But when I looked at his book, well, it wasn't her comments that ensured that was the case...

I didn't learn experiment design at primary school. I learned to observe closely though, and record what I saw. I think that is the first skill, and then we can move onto planning and fair tests in secondary schools. It does underpin Science of course, but all children learn Science right up until they are 16. We can pace it.

peppapigpants Wed 03-Oct-12 23:50:34

DD1 is in Y11 at a co-ed non-selective state school. She already has A*s in the chemistry and physics modules completed so far. She is very keen to take physics at A level, and will be going to a co-ed non-selective sixth form college. She will do maths A levels as well, not sure what the fourth will be. However, she wants to be a lawyer!

ithinkimightbegoingmad Wed 03-Oct-12 23:50:38

* I just wish primary science was made to be more interesting*

isnt that up to individual teachers though kim, in the way it is delivered?

duchesse Wed 03-Oct-12 23:51:29

I rest my case:

Toys for Boys

Toys for Girls <puke>

GrimmaTheNome Wed 03-Oct-12 23:55:29

duchess...girls toys are symmetrical are they? Now I know why I was so drawn to crystallography! grin

But seriously... I wish people would just ignore the marketing labels. Buy lego, k'nex, chemistry and electronics sets for the girls in your life... and a few dolls as well if they want them.

GrimmaTheNome Wed 03-Oct-12 23:57:06

peppa - the law would be all the better for more lawyers trained in science and maths - esp statistics. Good for her!

duchesse Thu 04-Oct-12 00:00:33

grimma smile

ithinkimightbegoingmad Thu 04-Oct-12 00:07:40

grimma as coincidence would have it I ordered the Primary 2 Electronics kit for dd1 last week. It arrived today..it is GREEEAT!! we've had brilliant fun with it this evening

can hugely recommend it to anyone with primary aged kids

do schools have this kind of stuff now? i only remember making circuits at school, in secondary school

Narked Thu 04-Oct-12 00:08:15

Single sex schools are great for girls. It never occured to me that certain subjects were seen as 'male'. That hit me at university - a friend did engineering and her year was 99% male.

nailak Thu 04-Oct-12 00:09:52

for the gendering crap

I did d&t electronics, most of my friends did food tech, or textiles, a lot did childcare as well.

tbh I only did it out of repulsion for girly stuff. The other options would have been a lot more useful to me (well maybe not food tech, but definitely textiles!)

nailak Thu 04-Oct-12 00:10:59

i remember making circuits in year 2. that was like 89/90

Narked Thu 04-Oct-12 00:15:45

Childcare? They teach that?

nailak Thu 04-Oct-12 00:18:32

child development i think it was, not actually childcare

Narked Thu 04-Oct-12 00:19:42

I'd have run from that as a teenager! Actually, I'd run from it now!

nailak Thu 04-Oct-12 00:21:58

the point is i grew up thinking that these traditionally female subjects were useless, worthless, no point in learning, and now I want to know these things.

It would be more useful to me to know how to use a sewing machine then know how to make a circuit board and what a relay switch and resistor do.

This idea that females are encouraged by society in to certain roles and away from other things, my experience is exactly the opposite, i may have wanted to do child development, but would have never dare told my family, they would have thought it was a waste of time.

and then when I had my own kids I studied it later on in life.

If I did physics my family would have been immensely proud. I did economics, politics, chemistry and maths

Narked Thu 04-Oct-12 00:38:29

Parental expectation and pressure sucks whichever way it's leaning. My MIL is an arse, but I'm always sorry for her that she was forced to leave school at 16. By her mother, who said there was no point in her staying on to do A levels, because she was only going to end up getting married and stopping work.

I have a sewing machine - my MIL gave it to me when I got married. I've never touched it. I had to use one at school for 3 years and hated every second of it. I have a job. I pay people to make curtains for me.

The point is that people should have the option to choose. The real option, that includes making sure the way subjects are taught and classes are organised isn't putting off those DC who are interested in them.

Narked Thu 04-Oct-12 00:46:38

And surely learning how the world around you works is one of the most wonderful things you can do! I always think how lucky DC are now, growing up in a world with so much information a mouse click away. I am 35 and it still makes me feel like a 5 year old when I look at my laptop and think that it's actually made up of components that are made up of molecules and atoms and that contain tiny charged particles.

You can google how to use a sewing machine an have it sorted in minutes.

nailak Thu 04-Oct-12 00:50:45

you can google how to make a circuit board too lol!!

Narked Thu 04-Oct-12 01:01:43

But you wouldn't need to google eg molecular structure, so you might miss that gem.

sashh Thu 04-Oct-12 04:46:19

A friend's son is doing maths, physics ad chemisty A Levels. In one class there are three students, and in another only 2, sorry I can't remmebr which subjects.

If a school only has two students sitting a subject then a figure of no girls isn't actually that bad.

Himalaya Thu 04-Oct-12 07:14:50

"everyone should learn home economics"


It has always struck me as a waste of (mainly girls) time.

I went to an all girls school that didn't teach it at all. To my knowledge none of the women I went to school with have starved, given themselves food poisoning, failed to figure out how to do laundry or whatever.I don't think it is the place of school to teach this stuff.

(has t it been incorporated into d&t anyway?)

Bonsoir Thu 04-Oct-12 07:19:24

I'm not sure that "home economics" as traditionally taught in England is much use, but sometimes I read threads on MN and am shock shock at the lack of knowledge about very basic issues of home and personal hygiene, nutrition etc, adequate knowledge of which would improve people's lives immensely.

mumzy Thu 04-Oct-12 07:38:58

I think the dumbing down of the education system in general has had an enormous negative impact on traditionally harder subjects such as science and MFL. Pupils now expect to get A* in subjects and tend to drop the ones they don't think they will easily perform well in. I did all 3 sciences at O level and physics was definitely the hardest of the 3. Many of the concepts are quite abstract, involved maths and were initially Difficult to grasp. Even in the 80 s far more boys studied physics than girls.

Bonsoir Thu 04-Oct-12 07:42:36

I agree, mumzy, and even children who are clearly future candidates for Russell Group universities will avoid subjects that they might possibly not get top grades in, in order to ensure that full house of A* that they think is the first filter on their UCAS form.

LurcioLovesFrankie Thu 04-Oct-12 07:47:06

For me the central issue is that girls seem to exhibit different behaviour in single sex and mixed schools (though it may not be a clean comparison as I guess the few single sex schools left are likely to be fee-paying or grammar schools).

My PhD (as a mature student) is in theoretical physics, and I now work in R&D in geosciences. The thing that struck me was how closely this news paralleled my school experience. I went to a girls' comp in the late 70s/early 80s, which went mixed when I was in the upper 6th. In my year, (the last all girls year) there were about 10 girls doing A level maths and mechanics (the traditionally boyish pairing if you were in a mixed school) and about 6 doing maths and stats, 8 doing physics and 6 doing further maths. The year after there was a handful of girls doing maths and stats and 1 girl doing maths and mech, physics and further maths. At the time, my reading of the situation was that once boys were there in school as well as outside, the girls began to police their behaviour in school to ensure they were suitably feminine and attractive - and that doing maths and physics wasn't suitably feminine and attractive (think all those stereotypes in films of the time about nerdy unattractive women scientists). In a single sex day school, girls could do what interested them during the day without having to worry about their sexual attractiveness, then put on whatever performance they wanted to/felt they had to outside school. It takes a lot of bloody mindedness in a mixed teenage environment to say "fuck how the in-crowd or majority expect me to behave, I'm doing my own thing."

Bilbobagginstummy Thu 04-Oct-12 07:59:59

But physics isn't hard! It's logical. grin

And intellectually stimulating - application of theory to the real world. How much more interesting and relevant can you get? <physics graduate>

I know that some people don't "get" the logic and do find it hard, but that's the case across both genders. I am absolutely amazed that people still exist who think that girls are innately non-scientific. Thought that idea had died about 100 years ago.

As for home economics, we had textiles and food lessons at my school (girls' school) and I learnt nothing whatsoever of any use to anyone.
I learnt how to cook and how to sew on buttons/make small repairs to clothes at home.

Bilbobagginstummy Thu 04-Oct-12 08:01:39

Lurcio - I am sure you are right, but I just don't understand how a girl who excels in physics & maths (because that's how their intellect is set up) can NOT do them.

GrimmaTheNome Thu 04-Oct-12 08:11:12

On the home ec and 'textiles' - given that many children come from families where sadly they aren't taught the basics, a course for everyone on essential life skills might be wise. Wouldn't have to be a long one. The non-practical aspects could be covered in Citizenship. But absolutely these subjects should not be, or even hinted to be 'girls' subjects. I'm glad to say the boys' GS parallel to DDs school has in the last few years built home ec facilities.

This could be supplemented - facilities and equipment allowing, which is the rub - by extracurricular activities which would be a matter of choice.

>Many of the concepts are quite abstract
That was precisely one of the reasonswhy I did want to study physics and chemistry. Also because they do require teaching - whereas many arts subjects you can go a long way reading books on your own.

>It takes a lot of bloody mindedness in a mixed teenage environment to say "fuck how the in-crowd or majority expect me to behave, I'm doing my own thing."

Or a total obliviousness to such factors. I don't think it for one moment crossed my mind to be influenced by whether any other girls were doing the same subjects as me. It didn't occur to me till long after, but my O-level physics class only had 2 other girls, one of whom was poor at maths and dropped out - they were two of my best friends, I wonder now how much they were influenced by my choice to do it?

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Thu 04-Oct-12 09:13:32

I agree re a basics of life course. In textiles, which I did before I could choose not to, I made papier mâché. I think I learnt about sewing on buttons at Brownies.

funnyperson Thu 04-Oct-12 09:15:36

I did Physics and maths A levels way back when (amongst others). Loved it. I think that the female brain is well able to be fantastic at physics. The UK culture (maths and physics are 'hard') is to blame for lack of interest. Have an Aunt who did engineering in the 50's.

Think not enough light reflection, rainbows, prisms, circuits, radio building, diffraction, magnetism, coefficient of expansion, pendula done in primary schools. The old experiments are the more exciting at first hand and good for basic principles. The Roald Dahl museum in Buckingham shire is great for physics. The science museum in London is terrible. I hear the Cavendish lab in Cambridge is worth a visit but have never been as it is not open to the public only to schools.

Loved ' The New Science of Strong Materials' one summer. A very important book to understand buildings and bridges.

funnyperson Thu 04-Oct-12 09:19:02

Forgot to say that I have a sewing machine which I love and make curtains and clothes. Physics and sewing are perfectly compatible. I did medicine anyway.

Also want to say that studying colloids which were physics and chemistry combined made me understand so much about cooking.

funnyperson Thu 04-Oct-12 09:20:42

Am indebted to blue Peter for papier mache. Spent a very happy summer making puppets with papier mache heads and sewing the hand glove things once.

mrsbaffled Thu 04-Oct-12 09:36:09

I did Maths, Physics and French at ALevel (at a grils' school). Physics was my favourite subject, though went on to do a Maths degree. I wouldn't have minded studying with boys at a mixed school (that's what happened on my degree anyway, I was very much in the minority), but I have a very male brain!

redwhiteandblueeyedsusan Thu 04-Oct-12 09:43:28

for goodness sake, don't tell dd. her favourite videos on the intenet are physics based.

I was not allowed to do physics at school. 3 sciences was too restrictive, apparently. angry

FunkyMonkey1983 Thu 04-Oct-12 09:47:52

I was the only girl in my Physics class. The same pupils (me included) that were in that class were also the Advanced Maths group.

I know some of my female classmates didn't want to study Physics because they deemed it boring and once the majority of the females didn't want to do it, the rest seemed to follow suit!

I'm an oddball though and was a total geek, so it didn't bother me being the only girl. Although the Physics teacher always said he felt sorry for me!

I have a daughter and although she is only 2, I will be encouraging her to study all the sciences when she is older.

Berry72 Thu 04-Oct-12 09:53:06

cookery and textiles lessons at my dds school just irritate her and me grin

Berry72 Thu 04-Oct-12 09:55:09

I would LOVE to see home ec dropped, in fact I have asked for it to be made non-compulsory at dds school (independent). I'd like to see electronics or even woodwork offered as an alternative. She can cook well enough already and has no interest in taking it any further, I can cook so she'll learn from me as it is.

duchesse Thu 04-Oct-12 10:22:11

No MrsBaffled, you have a scientific brain, not a male brain!

MOH100 Thu 04-Oct-12 10:25:12

ohGood thanks for that link, I'm going to get that book. I'm a medical physicist, I have a PhD in physics. Off the top of my head I can name about 30 female friends with physics degrees. Some of them wear sweatshirts, but most of the them wear normal female clothes, even high heels. Some of them are physics teachers (mostly in Scotland), some of them work in hospitals as medical physicists, some are in research or industry/government in alternative energy, nuclear power, radiation protection, patents. I did physics because it was challenging and interesting, and I have had a career as a physics teacher, then a medical physicist, now I'm in medical research.

A huge problem with the teaching of physics in England and Wales is that they allow non-specialists to teach physics, and they don't regard science subjects as practical so you have 30+ kids and it's really difficult to do practical work. In Scotland, maximum class sizes for science (from first year at secondary school upwards) are 20, and you must have at least two years of university education to teach any subject - except for 1st and 2nd years who do general science. That means it's not allowed to have biology teachers teaching physics and vice versa from Standard Grade (GCSE equivalent) onwards. When I taught in Scotland, we did loads of practical work and the kids respected you because they knew that you knew your stuff. In England it was a nightmare, there was never enough equipment to go round the huge classes, and I had to teach biology to some classes. Everyone was bored and frustrated because I hardly know anything about biology and I just couldn't be less enthusiastic about it because I find it quite dull. I have sat in the staff room teaching a biology or a chemistry teacher the content of the physics lesson that they are about to go and teach to their class because they don't understand it themselves. And they hate physics. How can you expect anyone to encourage girls to do something if they hate it themselves?

Popcornia Thu 04-Oct-12 10:27:10

There shouldn't be an either/or when it comes to electronics and sewing.

In fact, these days they are one and the same. Thanks to conductive thread and increasingly tiny computing components, even secondary level textile courses are teaching how to make wearable electronics. These have enormous implications for future healthcare (think of t-shirts that monitor heart rate, and so on).

Our entire future is technology-based, and it all has fascinating human-facing interfaces. Both our boys and our girls need to be better prepared to make and create things in our data/science/tech-heavy world.

Stopping telling girls they don't need electronics and boys that textiles are for girls would be quite a good start, really.

noblegiraffe Thu 04-Oct-12 10:38:10

A lot of this thread has been about physics and engineering, circuit boards and electronics. I have to say that if that had been how physics was sold to me I'd have been completely turned off. Obviously it might work for some people but there's so much more to physics than circuits!

When I did physics A-level the parts that I found fascinating where the modules on quantum mechanics (the very small) and astrophysics (the very big). It should be really easy to make these engaging to young people - space and the wonders of the universe, along with the big bang and projects like the LHC. Brian Cox has done a brilliant job of engaging people at both these levels, we need to capitalise on this.

Funnyperson -I loved that book, remember reading it around A level time. Wonder if it's still at my parent's house.

I'm going to stick some science / electronic kits on my Christmas shopping lists for the DCs and our DNs/ God-DCs.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Thu 04-Oct-12 11:17:58

YY that is a great book. He wrote another one called Structures, I think.

KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 04-Oct-12 12:10:24

Hello all

We thought you might be interested in two posts from Mumsnet bloggers on this topic - Red Ted Art's post is here, and The Women's Room blogged here (contains Brian Cox wink)

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Thu 04-Oct-12 12:20:44

Thanks, Kate.

Can I vote for Pauline Gagnon instead of Brian Cox though?

SuperB0F Thu 04-Oct-12 12:24:01

I wish there were fewer people (not just girls) studying it at my daughter's school sixth form. Thirty-bloody-five, I tell you. And they can't or won't split the classes angry.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Thu 04-Oct-12 12:25:11

Bof why won't they split it? That's huge!

SuperB0F Thu 04-Oct-12 12:27:31

I know! They don't have the staff/rooms/space in the timetable, apparently. I have been up there and been all vociferous on their ass, but no dice sad

I'll just have to find the money for extra tuition somehow. I can't tell you how pissed off I am.

mcsquared Thu 04-Oct-12 12:36:09

I studied Physics at A-Level and then went on to study it at degree level. I went to an all girls' secondary school, had great teachers etc etc but I don't think that's what made physics interesting for me.

I got a great start in life from a grandfather who was a massive advocate of science. I still have some of the books he bought me about the universe, science experiments you can do at home, dinosaurs... You name it, I probably had an encyclopaedia on it! I was interested in science from pretty much when I could talk and that naturally developed into a love of physics as the most underpinning science of all. I think it's massively important to spark that interest early and to have the subject taught well at primary level.

Nosleeptillgodknowswhen Thu 04-Oct-12 12:40:39

"Is there any point taking physics though if you don't want to do a physics degree/become a physics teacher?

Maybe we need to change tact and value 'feminine' subjects and encourage boys to take them rather than pushing girls into highly valued 'masculine' subjects?"

Slightly less economic value - to either country or individual - from baking and sewing though than from physics - don't you think? If we are looking to rebuild the economy on the back of growing high tech companies we need women in this area, so we then get female managers, CEOs and board members.

Mrsjay Thu 04-Oct-12 12:51:59

Both My dds have done /doing physics dd1 has it at standard grade and Higher (scotland) dd2 is doing her standard grade next year, in dd2s class there is 2 girls in her class and 2 in the other class, confused In dd1s higher class there was 2 girls ,

DD1 is doing a degree in sound engineering she needed her physics to get into the course.so it isn't all to do with being a phsyics teacher, My dds loves science and space etc and It shouldn't be perhaps girls are still being discouraged at home hopefully it will get better though

funnyperson Thu 04-Oct-12 13:06:21

True, true, quantum mechanics and particles are hugely in at the moment since everyone has heard of the large Hadron collider. Cern is in and Astrophysics is in. But not everyone works on the collider and not everyone can work in NASA on the Mars mission so where is the scope?

I always thought it was fascinating to learn how light acted like a wave. Which is relevant to watching stones drop in ponds. Or ducks swimming.

Nosleeptillgodknowswhen Thu 04-Oct-12 13:11:10

Where is the scope??????

ENGINEERING!!! what more scope do you need? from building bridges and designing roads to designing silent aircraft, new power controllers to reduce energy waste in power packs for devices and lap tops, inverters to allow plug-and-play solar panels, greener refrigeration....

I could go on and on and on.....

funnyperson Thu 04-Oct-12 13:17:08

Only kidding: loads of engineers in my family, including females, as I mentioned upthread and nephew is reading physics at Imperial (v few girls on the course though)

Nosleeptillgodknowswhen Thu 04-Oct-12 13:22:15

Sorry funny - speed mumsnetting in between dealing with children so didn't have time to read full thread blush

GoatsHaveStrangeEyes Thu 04-Oct-12 13:41:23

I did maths and chemistry A level. I contemplated doing physics but it really didn't interest me and i knew i would be bored. The class was very male dominated, i think there were 2 girls who did physics A level. I didn't think anything of it at the time but this is all very interesting.

YoullLaughAboutItOneDay Thu 04-Oct-12 14:03:17

I did not do physics A-level (90s), but really I should have been the ideal candidate. I did do Maths and Chemistry and I love a good equation.

You know why I didn't? Because at my school we did combined dual honours science (comprehensive, no single subjects or triple offered) and all the physics was really dull mechanics mostly involving wheels. I hated it with a passion and dropped it.

Every subject needs to fight for its pupil and, IME, physics did a really bad job engaging people. Those who took it tended to be people who needed physics for their job choice, so the fact that there are few women who aspire to be engineers, etc fed back into few taking A-level. The medics, etc all took biology instead.

plantarflexion Thu 04-Oct-12 14:03:46

My daughter goes to a selective single-sex independent school and physics is a very popular A level subject. Her school excels in giving girls high expectations and no end of opportunities to explore their subjects eg entering competitions, attending events at universities. There are no "soft options " at the school , no psychology/media studies/home economics etc .
She has turned out to be more interested in humanities and languages and will probably read Classics at university. The school has been spot-on though. It is not about money .
It is a lot about peer groups, expectations of teachers and expectations of parents . All in all this turns out high achieving , confident girls . Plenty of other schools could follow their example . I do think that the single sex aspect is important for girls, though . I did science A levels at single sex comprehensive . We didn't have the quality of teaching or the opportunities my daughter has had, but peer group support and parental expectations probably saw us through .

moonbells Thu 04-Oct-12 14:18:46

Hello all

I'm a Physicist. I never really wanted to do anything else from the age of about 11. I was always good at maths at primary school, and when someone introduced me to telescopes and stars, that was it. I went to a mixed comp to 13 then to a girls' comp. Both were actually quite encouraging, but I think they realised that they'd have to put a hell of an obstacle in my way to stop me.

When I got to university, about 20% of the intake was female, which was above average for the time (mid-80s). Looking back, we all were determined to use our degrees. I think most of us did further degrees/became teachers and researchers.

I got diverted from my original dream to become an astronomer; I went into Medical Physics instead (waves at MOH100), did a MSc to see if I liked it, then a PhD. 20 years later I'm a senior physics fellow doing full-time research with medical imaging.

I love it. I'd hate to be doing anything else.

marmiteandhoney Thu 04-Oct-12 14:29:40

I did physics A level, along with history and sociology. No maths along with it. I got an A.

I was at an all girls' (state) school -that I hated- , so maybe that was something to do with it?

I really enjoyed studying it, and my only regret was that I couldn't take it further as I had dropped maths after GCSE as it bored me rigid.

fossil97 Thu 04-Oct-12 14:35:27

I'm a female engineer with Physics and Maths A level. About 5-10% females on those courses at the time.

I would say the "feminine" subjects are more like humanities, sociology etc that my nieces all seem to be taking. Textiles and nutrition are practically chemical engineering at high level.

Baking, sewing, woodwork, metalwork are craft skills which are part of life alongside academic subjects, and the dying out of these skills is yet another scandal IMO.

I design underground structures for a living but it doesn't stop me icing a cake or sewing my own curtains when I get home.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Thu 04-Oct-12 14:51:42

Should we propose a Science Club topic?

catinhat Thu 04-Oct-12 15:29:31

I could almost be Lizzy - did A-levels in 1993. There were two girls in our class of about 15. I went on to do an engineering degree (which has served me well). I'm a relatively high earner working part time with my own business.

I think you need to do maths to find physics easy.

My perception is that at A-level, bright boys who didn't really know what to do choose physics. Bright girls who didn't really know what to do choose English.

The number of girls doing physics doesn't seem to have increased since I did Physics A-levels 20 years ago.

I would love more women to do Physics and go into Engineering etc. because I would love some female company in my working life!

A lot of people (boys and girls) struggle with certain concepts with physics and I think girls might give up more easily - possibly girls have to be more confident to feel able to continue with a subject. Who knows?

catinhat Thu 04-Oct-12 15:35:12

I am an engineer who loves crocheting and cooking. (actually, I'm obsessed my crocheting). However, I pay someone to do the cleaning. Does that mean I like home economics or not?

Anyway, everyone should choose what they do, but their choices need to be informed. (Career options, salary possibilities etc.)

Engineering requires many soft skills (which apparently girls are good at) and the ability to plan and programme and I think the profession misses out by not having enough women in it.

Oh, and because there are so few women, my maternity pay was great!

I'm a scientist that loves crochet and cooking <spots a trend>. I like the logic and orderliness that goes with all three. I would say that I'm not creative though, i love following recipes and patterns but very limited in the designing department.

KnightonMum Thu 04-Oct-12 15:40:35

Working at one of the few all-girls schools left, I see a huge interest in science subjects here. The girls aren't infulenced over what is seen as a traditional boy/girl subject. Everyone is encouraged to have a go. Check us out: Knighton House School.

GrimmaTheNome Thu 04-Oct-12 15:43:12

>Anyway, everyone should choose what they do, but their choices need to be informed. (Career options, salary possibilities etc.)

up to a point... I think we also should encourage following a subject because its so fascinating, without necessarily knowing where it will lead. When I went into my chemistry degree, I honestly had very little idea what chemists did in the real world, and I knew I didn't want to teach. I might have been put off by the career options for chemists available then... what I ended up doing really hadn't been invented at that point, and that's one of the fantastic things about science and engineering, isn't it!

Xenia Thu 04-Oct-12 15:48:34

Single sex schools I think can help. My daughter did physics here www.nlcs.org.uk/Science/Physic.php

I am absolutely fed up talking to men who want their daughters to go into fashion or unpaid roles because presumably they expect they will marry and who are encouraging their sons into well paid jobs. I know that's anecdotal but there still seems to be so much of it about and it needs to be challenged.

mathanxiety Thu 04-Oct-12 15:49:30

I recall back in the late 70s and early 80s in a state secondary school in Ireland a Leaving Class honours physics class fairly well balanced among boys and girls. Everyone there was doing honours maths. There wasn't enough interest to offer a general level physics class. Despite the fairly equal interest, it seemed therefore to interest the more hardcore maths/sciencey group, people who knew their future might lie in engineering or science, or at the least, bright students who wanted to keep their options open, which they could because of the broad based Irish Leaving Cert curriculum. From that class came a doctor, a professor of astrophysics, and about a dozen graduates in various sciences and engineering. Plus a couple of humanities people.

I honestly don't know how you would study physics without maths. Due to the way students in the British system are forced to study only a selective number of courses, choosing physics and maths means you are effectively choosing the engineering/maths/science path for yourself. Girls are not falling over each other in droves trying to get into these areas, which is a shame, but perhaps it is because you necessarily foreclose other areas that might be equally attractive when you plump for physics that girls won't give it a whirl?

The DCs in American HS did physics in junior year after biology in freshman year and chemistry in sophomore year. For their final year none of them opted to take physics at AP level. They went for AP biology instead. Physics was considered hard enough to avoid because at that stage there were too many other hard/time consuming subjects to tackle. Nevertheless they all had to do it/will have to do it in university (the beauty of the American system is that even if you are doing a degree in a humanities subject you will probably still end up doing calculus 3 and advanced physics)

ethelb Thu 04-Oct-12 16:00:50

I did physics AS (alongside biology and chemistry) and hated it as it is basically designed as an add-on to the maths a-level which wasn't really made sufficiently clear to me. I wasn't doing maths a-level but the rest of the class was (a class that was nearly half girls btw) and really struggled with that aspect of it as the teacher chose to "skim" over it.

One of the probs with physics and maths a-levels is you kind of need to take them all together (physics, maths, further maths etc) to get the most out of them and you get such limited options post 16 this is hard.

Plus, the syllabus was dull. I enjoyed the physical chemistry I did much more. A lot of the a-level was electronics which I still HATE and don't really feel is that beneficial to the study of science as a whole. More engineering tbh but you don't do that at a-level.

maybe people should be able to do engineering a-levels and keep the pure science separate.

ethelb Thu 04-Oct-12 16:08:00

btw I am considering doing a maths a-level and then have another go at the physics a-level grin

also trying to get some advanced html training at work so it wasn't all downhill. I got a biology degree in the end, sepcialising in genetics which involves LOADS of forces type stuff. grin

GrimmaTheNome Thu 04-Oct-12 16:21:40

>sepcialising in genetics which involves LOADS of forces type stuff
does it? how fascinating, wouldn't have thought it. (now wants to know more... )

ethelb Thu 04-Oct-12 16:24:15

@grimma yes as when you study genetics and biological chemistry you are basically looking at a complex molecular soup with stuff banging into each other, reacting, sticking together and making stuff and the rate at which all this happens (and makes the world we live in today) is governed by forces.

And of course there's stuff like the molecular clock which sort of dictates the rate of evolution...

I had no idea prior to starting my degree in chemistry what the career possibilities really were, it was simply my favourite and best subject. It was sold to me as a degree that had great potential across the board (Mrs Thatcher was in power at the time as an example). I did a sandwich degree and was extremely lucky with my industrial placement, it was brilliant and I went straight into similar work on graduation and took it from there. A lot of luck was involved, that's not generally enough, but I do think schemes for getting scientists into school, or better still pupils on visits to scientific employers can make a big difference.

ethelb Thu 04-Oct-12 16:31:32

I find the assertions that there is no point in studying a degree in sciences unless you want to be a science teacher. FFS you could say the same about an english lit degree!

I'm a health journo btw.

wanderingalbatross Thu 04-Oct-12 16:34:47

I just read this recent article about how the numbers of women in science and engineering are 'alarmingly low'


I agree that physics and maths are very related at a-level. When I did them, they'd tried to teach us physics without the maths. That meant that those of us doing maths a-levels found some of the physics a-level really simple, while those without the mathematical framework were often a bit confused.

GrimmaTheNome Thu 04-Oct-12 17:23:24

ethel - ah - I'd thought genetics types did more sequence analysis type stuff (I write life science software that does some of that and molecular mechanics type stuff, not so much kinetics though).

messyisthenewtidy Thu 04-Oct-12 17:29:29

When I was at school the girls sat at the back of the physics class and the teacher ignored us completely. It was expected that we would be crap at it so of course we were. One day I moved to the front in feminist protest and the teacher was very dismissive. Of course I didn't understand it because I had missed too much. It just reinforced to me the idea that I couldn't as a girl be any good, so I ended up convincing myself it was boring and that I didn't have any interest in physics as a subject.

Now I have begun to be interested in it and I see how much I could have loved it if I'd had a teacher who had tried to engage us girls. I feel quite angry about it tbh.

prettybird Thu 04-Oct-12 17:41:11

Either I went to an exceptional school don't think so - or maybe just the broader nature of Scottish education encourages it, but it never occured to me not to do Physics. This was over 30 years ago.

Iirc, I was swithering between Physics and History or Geography for (Scottish) Highers and I was encouraged by my careers advisor to Physics, so as to to keep my options open. Ended up doing Maths, Physics, Chemistry, English, French, Latin, ie half "Arts" and half "Sciences".

At a co-ed, comprehensive (state) school but all my female friends did the same subjects. Don't remember any discrimination in class.

Went to Uni after 5th year (equivalent of Lower 6th) to study French and Russian (ended up doing French and Economics), so don't know what it was like in 6th year. Many of my friends (most of whom did stay on for 6th Year) went on to do medicine - suspect my careers advisor thought I might want to too (high achieving school) but I never did (even though my dad was a doctor).

prettybird Thu 04-Oct-12 17:44:20

BTW - even though I got an A grade for my Physics Higher, I absolutely hated it. Realised later, when I studied maths for a year at Uni that it was because I couldn't do hated Applied Maths, although I was good at Pure Maths.

sciencelover Thu 04-Oct-12 17:49:41

IIRC, my first two Physics teachers were female. IMO, the smartest two students were myself and another girl. Course, I could be biased. smile

There was a boy who was also quite brilliant, and may have been on par with one of us.

mathanxiety Thu 04-Oct-12 17:51:39

I don't know how you would even study biology properly without maths, let alone physics.

idlevice Thu 04-Oct-12 18:11:56

Interesting point about introducing physics early on - I now wonder if this is why I got into it as we did some basic stuff at primary school with a marvellous teacher called Mr Inkpen. Though the main thing I remember from that time is the boys using ring-shaped magnets to pick up iron filings & saying they looked like fanjos...

lizziebach Thu 04-Oct-12 18:29:15

I did a physics a level, I was the only girl in the class and when we were picking our subjects for a level lots of girls were interested until we were told our physics teacher was sexist and wouldnt like girls in his class. He did try and get me to drop it but I persisted and I'm glad I did. The trouble was he wouldnt help me at all, I ended up getting a C in it and not really understanding much until I got to uni and had a fantastic physics tutor. Now I am only 28 and this teacher is still teaching and probably still has the same attitude so it only takes a few dinasours like this to lower the number of girls taking physics. Although I can't say I minded too much, there were probably about 15 lads in the class and most of them were in the schools rugby team...

ethelb Thu 04-Oct-12 19:09:41

mathanxiety its true. the problem is the narrowness of options post 16.

I did english lit, biology and chemistry with physics as. Though i would have liked to have done, english lit, bio, chem, physics, maths and art. But it just wasn't going to happen!

Plus, careers advice wasn't great. I was a clever student and all the teachers said I should do their subject at a-level (not trying show off, tis true) and so when the maths and physics tutors said that their subject was valuable, I thought "that's what my history teacher said".

MOH100 Thu 04-Oct-12 19:18:11

waves back at moonbells. The 'feminine' and 'masculine' subjects thing really gets my goat, it's purely culturally determined. I have an Iranian friend who is an engineer, as are her other 3 sisters, their dad is a physicist. On her degree course in Iran, it was 50/50 men and women. It's because they're taught separately so there's no notion of boys doing physics and girls not, otherwise they wouldn't have anyone doing physics in the girls schools. And that's Iran where they force women to wear headscarves and stone them to death for adultery. For the love of god, people, we are doing worse than Iran in sex equality in sciences degrees!!!

WilfSell Thu 04-Oct-12 19:27:21

I took maths, physics and chemistry A levels. One of 3-4 girls in the physics class, slightly more in maths and chem. Frankly, I chose them because I was good at maths, and an all rounder in everything else, wanted to be an architect then so figured if I chose 'tough' subjects, I could go back and do something 'softer' later. And because it was a matter of principle NOT to do something 'girly' for me back then

Stupid decision. Despite being interested in science, and pretty numerate, my posturing was pointless. If I'd have taken Art, English and Politics (as I should have done) I'd have a much smaller chip on my shoulder now about my disastrous A levels. hmmgrin

Anyhow. It is still bloody shocking and crap for girls now. I think science and maths should be taught single sex in all schools, meself, and be compulsory up to 16 (or at least two out of three sciences).

lovepigeon Thu 04-Oct-12 19:43:06

I did physics, maths, further maths and chemistry A level at an all girls grammar in 2004/5. There were loads of us in chemistry about 15 in maths but only about 5 doing physics (dropping to 3 after AS) and I was the only one to do further maths (year group about 120). This meant I got quite lonely in U6th.
Being in an all girls definitely made science much more enjoyable for me as I could ask and answer questions confidently.

By the time I did my A levels they had amended the physics content so that you did not need maths A level which was a major mistake in my opinion. It meant there was no calculus content and the whole subject really dumbed down and boring and far too easy.

I started a Theoretical Physics degree at Imperial but ended up leaving at the end of the first year as was really unhappy and think being in such a minority contributed to my decision. For example I was the only girl in my seminar group with about 20 boys and as I was very low confidence found it really hard to join in (obviously this will not apply to all girls I was just particularly self consious).

Did a maths degree instead which I absolutely loved and did lots of the applies physicsy module options in my final year. The fact that maths is 50/50 at degree level helped but also I just love properly proving things whereas in physics often felt like we were just rearranging equations. The poster who mentioned research saying you need 30% min women I think this is interesting as it definitely holds true with my experiences. Now work in programming/stats and my dept is 30% female. Really miss doing "proper" maths though.

mrsbaffled Thu 04-Oct-12 20:59:24

lovepigeon sorry you felt alone at Imperial. I did Maths there in the late 90s - it was a similar situation. I did emerge the other end though smile

nextphase Thu 04-Oct-12 21:18:34

Agree with those saying it only gets worse at Uni.
And then, try getting into a work environment, where they don't actually have changing rooms for you, so you end up changing into plant gear in the loos....
But, I'm doing a job I love, so it's all worth it and I was pants at arts and humanities, so science was the way to go

Dozer Thu 04-Oct-12 21:29:08

Dame jocelyn bell Burnell has done a report on STEM skills and women in Scotland, I heard her speak about it recently, will try to dig out the report, it had good evidence on physics and other subjects and made recommendations.

Dozer Thu 04-Oct-12 21:31:06
amothersplaceisinthewrong Thu 04-Oct-12 21:51:45

I couldn't wait to drop Physics at the end of third year..... far too hard and complicated and incomprehsible (or maybe badly taught....)

I did however do Maths A level in 1979 and loved the applied Maths which I gather is a bit physicsy. Brilliant teachers helped!

kim147 Thu 04-Oct-12 21:57:18

My teacher in 3rd year put me off. Was not the world's most inspiring teacher. But I also did A-level maths and loved the mechanics bit.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Thu 04-Oct-12 22:29:27

Does anyone think a Science Club MN topic is a good idea or were you all ignoring that and h

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Thu 04-Oct-12 22:30:11

Does anyone think a Science Club MN topic is a good idea or were you all ignoring that and hOping it would go away (also open to "no, terrible plan!" responses)

GrimmaTheNome Thu 04-Oct-12 22:33:55

What sort of things would you envisage seeing in the Science Club? MN needs you to occupy an unused thread good reasons to create a new topic.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Thu 04-Oct-12 22:39:50

I dunno, History Club seems to be going really well and I'm jealous!

Long running threads on major areas eg genetics, evolution, Astronomy. Discussions about teaching methods. Book recommendations. Scientific howlers in scifi tv/novels. Reviews of Tv science programmes.

Maybe Brian Cox discussions on Friday nights (though personally I prefer Marcus du Sautoy) grin

CMOTDibbler Thu 04-Oct-12 22:45:03

MOH100 and Moonbells - I'm a medical physicist too ! Wow - three of us on MN grin

Himalaya Thu 04-Oct-12 22:48:36

I'd be up for it unless it gets too hard

On physics at school I wonder if in mixed schools they put more emphasis on the tedious stiff about circuit boards which has a "boys stuff" image and less on the mind boggling atoms and space stuff?

I spend too much time on here as it is! I mght dip in and out of a science club, would certainly be useful for picking other's brains. I have to admit although I still work in science it doesn't grip me like it once did, I have a lot of other interests now and rarely watch science programmes or read much outside my specialist area, i'm studying social sciences now. I'd browse but probably not be a regular contributor. However I do think that for the reason this thread was started, ie lack of women studying a science, it woukd be a great idea for a topic, might get non scientists more interested and enable them to encourage their DDs.

moonbells Thu 04-Oct-12 23:08:39

Waves at CMOTDibbler grin

GeekLove Thu 04-Oct-12 23:19:59

I'm another career physicist (just) having got into my job by a convoluted job starting with Astronomy, solid state and finally crystalography, powder metallurgy and microscopy!
I have fond memories of Physics A level but was aware of the gender disparity with 14 boys and 3 girls at the start. However, all three girls got A level as only 9 in total got that far.

I think 16 is a very sensitive age for most teens and I remember the simmering resentment of my then-boyfriend as I got better marks than him in general.I got through this by having the skin of a rhinoceros and dumping him within 2 months of 6th form. However, many girls may not have the confidence to resist this form of peer disapproval if to be labelled 'clever' and 'geek' is to present you as a threat.
I made it damn clear to any other prospective boyfriend that for 6th form they would be second to physics and exams - which meant I was single and free from distraction ready for University!

sciencelover Thu 04-Oct-12 23:43:17

I've looked for a good science forum on here. I'd love to talk about things like whether the universe is "round" or "flat" (does it loop in on itself or not). Was the Big Bang the beginning? Higgs Boson news would have gone there. I could always pose my theoretical science musings in the Philosophy forum.

sciencelover Thu 04-Oct-12 23:53:36

We also need a petition to get the advanced search feature to not return results with the word "physical" when doing a search on the word "physics". grin

(is probably the only one who's had any grief from that feature)

GrimmaTheNome Fri 05-Oct-12 00:08:04

Well, someone had bette ask MNHQ - its your idea, Doctrine, I guess if you report one of your posts to MN that will get their attention?

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Fri 05-Oct-12 00:14:22

I will now I know other people are interested! H

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Fri 05-Oct-12 07:25:13

Ok I have asked very nicely, let's see what they say.

Himalaya Fri 05-Oct-12 08:07:26

We could have science book club <gets excited>

Maybe Science and Nature, make it a bit more broad based / accessible. There are often plenty of posters on threads about meteor showers, strange weather, sightings of Northern Lights etc.

MrAnchovy Fri 05-Oct-12 09:14:46

@sciencelover you want physicsforum warning you may never be seen on Mumsnet, or outside your front door, again grin

MrAnchovy Fri 05-Oct-12 09:28:50

Also http://science-girl-thing.eu/ and http://www.nature.com/scitable/forums/women-in-science

Before you shout "but you are a man", I do have a DD destined for science A levels so I have a vested interest. I am also a maths graduate and many people think that maths is not a real science either grin

dappleton Fri 05-Oct-12 11:09:08

I studied Physics to A-level, class of about 12 I think (can't really remember as was a rather long time ago) and only 2 girls but I really enjoyed it.

GrimmaTheNome Fri 05-Oct-12 11:58:43

MrA - its OK, men are allowed too. Women usually want equality not world domination even though we could do everything better.

I aquired a DH along with my degrees - we have the same scientific qualifications - and I think yet another benefit my DD has (which I also had) is a father who is totally supportive of her abilities. Men like him and you, with DDs, are vital in changing attitudes smile

mamabanana Fri 05-Oct-12 12:40:07

I was in a strange position at school as it had only recently become co-ed, hence I was the only girl in my physics GCSE set. I enjoyed most of it, but struggled with some aspects. When I approached the teacher for help, he said, 'The boys don't need any help, so I'm not going to make an exception for you'. Thereby fulfilling the stupid notion that its a 'boy's subject', rather than realising 14/15 year old boys are too proud/embarassed to ask for help. What a tosspot - I lost my confidence after that.

I ended up doing a biology degree and I did a physics course during the first year which I found fascinating. If only I'd had a better initial impression...

GrimmaTheNome Fri 05-Oct-12 13:00:58

mama - what a shame - to fall foul of the 'men wont ask for directions' phenomenon.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Fri 05-Oct-12 13:06:51

also falling foul of the 'what is the teacher there for, if not to ask for help' tosspot phenomenon!

Rebecca emailled me back and said to start a thread in Site Stuff, so I did:

MrAnchovy Fri 05-Oct-12 13:17:35

Interesting point mamabanana - I wonder if this (when the reaction is more positive) is a major factor in explaining the 'boys do better in mixed schools' observation.

nickeldaisical Fri 05-Oct-12 13:19:41

We had 3 in our class of about 12.
that was 6th form college.

but our tutor groups were fixed by subject, and there were as many boys as girls in our tutor group (physics was the determining subject, and one of our physics girls was in a chemistry tutor group)

nickeldaisical Fri 05-Oct-12 13:21:12

i did physics because i wanted to do mechanical engineering, my best friend did it because she wanted to engineering (but didn't know what kind), and the other girl wanted to do Forensic Science.

wol1968 Fri 05-Oct-12 13:38:37

Delurking here....

I come from a family where the women are nurses and the men are engineers - but I ended up doing Latin, English and Maths at A-level. Here's why: I went to the kind of small, private girls' school that had a 'caring' reputation hmm and a 'science lab' that resembled a large shed, with out-of-date chemicals and no fume cupboard. (How it did not spontaneously combust, I don't know, but I do remember being evacuated from it once because the teacher had done an experiment that produced rather a lot of chlorine gas. shock ) I was taught O-level chemistry (a very weird, ideological version, involving lots of industrial processes and essays about acid rain, the 'climate change' of the day) by a teacher who had no qualification in the subject herself - and no real aptitude, see above! - and physics by a teacher who had difficulty doing simple sums in her head. As for biology, I got an A by memorising the text book, which was at least halfway decent. I could have gone on to study sciences, but I had the distinct impression they weren't my strength. And TBH I'd have struggled at A-level (at a different, very high-ranking girls' school) with such an inadequate grounding.

Nowadays I'm more inclined to think I might have been stronger in those subjects if the school had had better facilities and teachers. They were little more than a souped-up finishing school at heart - they managed OK with book-based teaching, drama and humanities subjects, but science, PE, computer science, forget it.

LurcioLovesFrankie Fri 05-Oct-12 13:55:21

Just thinking about the image of physics - I loved the BBC doc "Orbit". It followed the usual format for this sort of series of "camera-friendly scientist" plus "lay presenter to make the audience feel they were part of it" (it's a good format, I think, so long as the lay presenter isn't also "token female"). But in this case, both presenter and scientist were female - Kate Humble (who is brilliant, and never allows producers to treat her as "token female") and Helen Czerski. It was great fun, fabulous explanations and graphics (Helen explaining the Coriolis force on a playground roundabout, then sky-diving to show how the trade winds worked).

alreadytaken Fri 05-Oct-12 14:25:35

There is a noticeable difference in the percentage of girls doing Maths in single and mixed sex schools too, I haven't looked at other sciences but suspect it is less obvious in chemistry and biology because girls are as keen as boys to be doctors.

I was discussing with a physics teacher recently why so few girls do A level physics. I suggested various ways in which he might encourage girls but he told me at length why I was wrong and, as I'd suggested it was easier than chemistry, how difficult a subject it was. I'm not surprised girls don't wish to be taught by him.

Sparrowp Fri 05-Oct-12 15:57:47

Thinking on my personal experience, my GCSE science teachers had degrees in chemistry and biology, so their depth of knowledge and enthusiasm for their specialist subject probably made a difference.

We could only do "double science" and not separate sciences, I wonder if that meant students ended up weaker in physics and so didn't continue.

I would be in favour of 3 sciences being taught in schools.

YoullLaughAboutItOneDay Fri 05-Oct-12 16:25:04

Sparrow - yes, it was rather self perpetuating. We did dual science as well. Only a small number of pupils did physics a-level, therefore only a small number of the science teachers were physics specialists. I was taught gcse by a biology teacher and a chemistry teacher. I went on to do chemistry at a-level.

Sparrowp Fri 05-Oct-12 18:08:13

I didn't encounter any sexism during my education, but I did afterwards like a ton of bricks. If there had been any I'm sure it would have been very offputting - or I might have been extra stubborn.

Do teachers get training in gender and equality?

ClaudiaCardinale Fri 05-Oct-12 20:58:39

I am really impressed, and happy, at how many female scientists (scientistes?) we have posting right here on Mumsnet.

I think I love Mumsnet.

To add to my terse post of a couple of days ago: I am studying physics now, but at school I couldn't wait to be shot of anything scientific. My A-levels were in languages.

So now I am doing a degree in physics at the OU at the same time as holding down a demanding job and being a single mum (how much easier it could have been if I had gone for physics in the first place! lol).

Looking back I honestly don't know, and can't understand, why I didn't discover as a girl the interest in science that I have now. Maybe it was all my fault - but it does seem to fit into a pattern.

I'm an engineer, not a scientist grin. Studied electrical engineering and am now a software developer. I've always been very numeric and loves maths and physics at school. There are females in the numerate sciences, but not many sadly. Someone told me it might be females are too smart to choose engineering as a career.

You are amazing to work and study as a single mum!

ClaudiaCardinale Fri 05-Oct-12 22:38:34

"...amazing..." - well... it's a question of organisation, and really wanting to do it, and having help. All those things make it possible.

But thank you!

wanderingalbatross Fri 05-Oct-12 23:21:34

I am also amazed at the number of scientists posting here smile

I was definitely encouraged by some very enthusiastic teachers and a supportive dad. I know a dad posted earlier in the thread, so just wanted to say never underestimate the influence you have on your daughter when it comes to encouragement smile I think strong male support for female scientists is just as important as strong female role models.

Also any members of your family /friends can help influence. DH Aunt is a Professor of Physics and has inspired my DD 8 so so much <stealth boast for being proud of brainy Aunt> she buys her Science kits and engages in the kind of dialogue about the world and science that I would never even think of in a beautiful and inspiring way.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Sat 06-Oct-12 00:03:43

I agree wandering. My grandad encouraged me and my DB equally in Maths and physics and responded to our interest wonderfully. He was an electrical engineer.

rabbitstew Sat 06-Oct-12 13:16:56

Haven't read most of the posts... but my view on why I, personally, and why possibly other girls didn't do A-level physics is because there was a limit to the number of subjects I could study at A-level. The problem with physics is that it automatically goes with maths (which I enjoyed and did study at A-level), but then, if you want to use it or study it post A-level, it seems to be considered a good combination with further maths and chemistry... resulting in a whole load of subjects all heading in one direction and forcing you to give up essay-based subjects far earlier than you wanted to in order to do it. I didn't want a science-heavy selection of A-level options unless I was certain I wanted a scientific career, so opted for my favourite subjects, instead, knowing that they were all well respected subjects which would get me into a good university and which I was definitely better than most people at, rather than being good at, but not being sure of the competition. I also think that GCSE/O-level science subjects bear little resemblance to what and how you study at A-level and beyond, making it even harder to feel that you are making realistic choices when you make your decision. I knew what to expect with English and maths, because I'd been studying them since I first started school, so knew I wouldn't regret continuing with them... I was also aware that if I enjoyed maths I might have enjoyed physics, but I found the physics GCSE I studied a little bit on the dull side...

Bilbobagginstummy Sat 06-Oct-12 13:40:09

Rabbitstew - I'm interested in your view as to why the analysis would work differently for boys: the constraints on timetabling, subject combinations, etc, are the same so they don't - of themselves - explain the gender disparity.

rabbitstew Sat 06-Oct-12 13:49:14

I think it works differently for boys because boys are happier with their gender stereotyping/don't ask themselves quite so much whether they are the victims of it! I'm sure there are boys out there who would like to take a wider range of options post-16, too, though, not just girls.

seeker Sat 06-Oct-12 13:54:10

Interesting. At my dd's all girl school, they went to considerable lengths to tell the girls that you can do physics without maths- there are quite a few doing physics with arts subjects. Dd was doing English, history, theatre studies and physics, and the school was more than happy with that. When she moved to a different school, she could have done the same combination- the Head of 6th form said they had plenty of what he called "leisure physicists". Sadly, the class was full so she had to do something else.

rabbitstew Sat 06-Oct-12 13:57:58

No problem with being a leisure physicist, but if you have an eye to doing engineering or physics at university, I think you'd have a hard time convincing them you could do it without a maths A-level. My perception of universities is that if you want to do a science degree, they already want you to be a seriously committed scientist... Maybe I'm wrong these days, but I don't think I was in my day, when the IB was a weird oddity that people in other countries did rather than something most UK universities had to seriously consider.

seeker Sat 06-Oct-12 14:10:36

Well, in my day, practically no one did a mixture of science and arts A levels. Obviously if you were heading for a sciency career you'd still have to do all sciences, but it has to be good for society that people are doing mixtures now.
Liberal artists with some awareness of scientific method has to be a good idea?

maillotjaune Sat 06-Oct-12 14:25:31

Seeker I think it's great that at your dd's school there are girls doing physics for fun, but do they not need some additional maths? There was one person in my A level chemistry class who wasn't doing maths and she needed extra maths help just for the physical chemistry. Lord knows how anyone could have coped with the maths in physics without a lot of extra work in their own time if they weren't doing applied maths as well.

I accept alot may have changed since 1988 but honestly, most of applied maths overlapped directly with the maths required for the mechanics part of physics.

I agree that there wasn't much choice, it was science or arts/humanities, certainly back in the 80s when I did mine. As a result, having chosen the science route at 16, I feel woefully undereducated in humanities and arts.

Maillot I managed Physics without Applied Maths perfectly well, I only did Pure Maths. Probably should have done Pure&Applied with hindsight.

seeker Sat 06-Oct-12 14:46:42

"Seeker I think it's great that at your dd's school there are girls doing physics for fun, but do they not need some additional maths? "

Apparently not- they do have to have an A for GCSE maths though.....

nickeldaisical Sat 06-Oct-12 14:57:36

my physics and maths a-levels didn't overlap.
all the maths i needed was taught in the physics lessons as part of the physics.
(acceleration/velocity/ etc)

nickeldaisical Sat 06-Oct-12 14:58:50

we didn't have the choice of what maths - our maths teacher said applied maths was basically a waste of time (because you learn all t he concepts in the other subjects).
we all did pure and statistics

mathanxiety Sat 06-Oct-12 15:31:56

One of the reasons physics was taught in the third year of the DCs' US high school was so that the students' maths background would be sufficient, especially for the honours physics course. In that school, if you wanted to do any science at honours level you had to be enrolled in honours maths too.

rabbitstew Sat 06-Oct-12 15:40:00

I was the only person in my A-level maths group not to be doing sciences with it. I thought it a bit of a bonus to be doing applied maths without having to do physics - I got to understand a tiny bit of the physics A-level syllabus without having to do the physics A-level... a shame I didn't get to do any statistics, though, as that would have been very useful... just shows how illogical some of the combinations of subjects can be, depending on what your school offers!

mathanxiety Sat 06-Oct-12 15:47:32

One of the girls who ended up doing medicine from my year in school did bio and chem plus honours maths, history, and French (as well as Irish and English, making up the 7 subject Leaving Cert quota) -- she didn't do physics though that was acceptable as a lab science in Irish universities.

kim147 Sat 06-Oct-12 18:20:17

I do like the idea of arty people doing some sciences at a higher level. Especially politicians. And media types. Whenever science is being discussed on the Today programme, you can tell the presenters don's have clear understanding. A good level of science understanding is very useful in this world.

I was one of 3 girls doing physics A level in my class of about 12. Our teacher was quite sexist, I remember one lesson the boys were given experiments to do & us girls were given something to write on overhead projector sheets hmm

fossil97 Sat 06-Oct-12 18:34:34

I was the only girl in A level physics IIRC, the main problem was that the teacher was a former electronics engineer and I've never had any head for circuitry and semiconductors.

I do think it should be promoted that doing physics is a gateway to many really interesting technical careers such as engineering. When I looked at a career change there were a number of management consulting type opportunities as well (systems analysis?) where they said engineering graduates were favoured as they were both numerate and had good problem solving. You never have any idea of those career paths at age 16.

I suspect a lot of girls imagine that physics A level would only lead to being a physics teacher or some kind of white-coat researcher (which of course is worthy in itself). I would not have had any awareness of engineering were it not for the Girls into Engineering promotions being run in the 1980s (Insight courses, anyone?) but as soon as I saw it I knew that was what I wanted to do.

TeiTetua Sat 06-Oct-12 19:02:59

I think there's a hangover of attitudes from the British class system (social not academic!) which says that technical subjects are not what a gentleman would do, and certainly not a lady. I mean, it leads to trade, not quite the thing.

Whereas in Europe, there's a tradition of scientists and yes, even engineers, being intellectuals as well. So if kids are doing mixed subjects in school, maybe there could be a move in that direction.

rabbitstew Sat 06-Oct-12 19:04:42

All the science teachers at our school were women. I had quite a few relatives (including a woman) who were engineers, a school which pushed science and a family with several women scientists in it and I was still undecided... I felt I was quite good at science but even better at other things and wanted to be the best at whatever I did... Maybe I had the opposite issue of most people and reacted against the feeling I was being pushed in one direction, which in my case was towards science and engineering. These days, I think I might rather have enjoyed it after all! Some people are just too bloody minded...

ClaudiaCardinale Sat 06-Oct-12 22:50:29

That's amazing, rabbit - all of them?!! Was that a girls' school?

My little one is so curious about the world, and I am so grateful that I am now in a position to answer her questions sensibly.

She knows that humans came from monkeys (though I am pretty sure I said apes, unless I wasn't speaking English at the time, which is quite probable, come to think of it), and birds from dinosaurs, and that the stars are still there during the day, we just can't see them because the sun is so bright, and that the Sun is a star, it just looks so big because it's so close.

I want her to make her own way, and do and become whatever is best for her, without being trammeled by other people's stupid ideas.

So I hope I won't be too disappointed and condemning if she ends up wanting to be a hairdresser or a fashion model...

rabbitstew Sun 07-Oct-12 09:13:40

Yes, it was a girls' school...

ClaudiaCardinale Sun 07-Oct-12 13:43:45

I suppose it was a silly question, rabbitstew!

I went to mixed schools (and so does my daughter, now, since a few weeks ago), and I have never had anything to do wth single sex schools, of either variety. I suppose I assumed, without really thinking about it, that they would generally employ teachers of both sexes.

prettybird Sun 07-Oct-12 15:54:53

My crap Physics teacher was female and the good one was male, so it just goes to show you can't generalise.

This was in Scotland, so both would have had to have Physics degrees in order to teach it.

rabbitstew Sun 07-Oct-12 18:23:22

The male teachers mainly did the arty subjects grin.

GrimmaTheNome Sun 07-Oct-12 20:50:03

nickel - I think your maths teacher had a point. Its bizarre that most physical science students (in my day) had done very little stats at school - we did a stats course in first year of chemistry degree, the first thing they did in physics subsid was measuring straws as a simple exercise in reporting results properly with standard deviations - we never did that at school. The people doing biology and chemistry usually did maths&stats single A level.
Wouldn't a double award covering pure, some applied and stats make more sense?

Of course its not just scientists... when you think of all the misrepresentation of scientific results in newspapers, serious miscarriages of justice etc stats should be a prerequisite for lawyers, journos, economists, politicians...

Sorry, I digress but maybe this also plays into the narrowness of A-level choices, Arts or STEM subjects.

YoullLaughAboutItOneDay Sun 07-Oct-12 21:16:11

My maths A level in the late 90s was a combination of pure and applied, and the applied was a mix of mechanics and stats. I am a lawyer and it often terrifies me how little lawyers, including employment judges (my area) often know about stats and how easily they are swayed by stats that aren't actually very persuasive if you understand them. I strongly believe that A level students should have some mandatory core courses - not necessarily even examined, just covered - in important elements like that.

kim147 Sun 07-Oct-12 21:23:12

The case of the solicitor who was convicted of murdering her children was one of the worst misuse of statistics I have seen. Yet no one realised - the eminent scientist, the judges, the lawyers or the jury. Anyone with a basic understanding of probabilty and genetics could have realised that. Sally Clark died because of what that professor did sad

YoullLaughAboutItOneDay Sun 07-Oct-12 21:27:11

Yes, I still don't understand how not one person in her defence team said 'hang on, those stats treat them as independent events. We don't know if there is a linked, unidentified cause'.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Sun 07-Oct-12 21:28:21

I agree kim, so tragic.

kim147 Sun 07-Oct-12 21:41:29

The point with that case was the suggestion that cot death is rare. So two cot deaths is equal to the probability of cot death times by itself (2 independent events)

But we know that if you can have a rare disease in a family, you have a much higher chance of having a sibling with that rare disease. How the hell did that not get picked up? It's basic genetics and no one knows the exact cause of cot death.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Sun 07-Oct-12 21:45:01

I know, I didn't do stats or biology to any level of qualificationand it didn't sound right to me when the case was reviewed ... I am sure doctors now study some medical statistics in their course or in preceding A levels.

rabbitstew Mon 08-Oct-12 09:20:12

What's the link between probability and statistics? I did probability as part of my A-level maths, but did not study "statistics." I therefore presumed they were different...

rabbitstew Mon 08-Oct-12 09:24:33

Or is there only a link when you are confused, as per the cot death cases?

Now I'm confused and intrigued. I wish someone had taught me a bit about statistics!

GrimmaTheNome Mon 08-Oct-12 09:43:01

Probability in the mathematical sense is the coin-flipping, dice rolling sort of thing. You can calculate the chance of 5 heads in a row, that sort of thing. One aspect of statistics applies probabilities to the real world to anwer questions such as 'what is the probability that this experimental result is just chance'. I found this which I think explains quite well (though at some length).

MrAnchovy Mon 08-Oct-12 13:06:33

Probability is about prediction; you don't need any data to do probability.

Statistics is about observation; you can't do any statistics without data.

GrimmaTheNome Mon 08-Oct-12 13:16:05

That's a very good way of putting it, MrA, though the word 'probability' is used also in relation to statistics eg the probability that a result is meaningful if its within 2 or 3 sigma or whatever. Or the probability of a smoker having a heart attack by age Y is X whereas for a nonsmoker its Z - that sort of thing.

MrAnchovy Mon 08-Oct-12 15:12:30

Oh, the question was what is the link whereas my answer was what is the difference!

The link is uncertainty or variability.

Probability is about the prediction of events the outcome of which is uncertain or variable.

Statistics is about the observation of events which exhibit uncertainty or variability.

harbingerofdoom Mon 08-Oct-12 21:23:54

MrA are you an actuary?

kim147 Mon 08-Oct-12 21:53:05

Statistics - collection of data

Probability - an application of chance of events happening which can be deduced theoretically (e.g. picking an ace from a non-biased pack of cards) or from looking at the statistics and calculating the chance of an event happening based on the evidence.

As in based on the statisitical evidence, there's a high probability I'll have a glass of wine on Friday night. smile

kim147 Mon 08-Oct-12 21:54:04

Well - collection of data and analysis of it. e.g. 25% of MNetters drink wine on a Friday night.

mamabanana Tue 09-Oct-12 08:34:36

I'll have a go at explaining from the perspective of a scientist who uses statistics but is not a statistician! If am doing an experiment to see the effect of something e.g. to see if mowing my lawn increases the number of dandelions, I would collect data (count the number of dandelions) before mowing and then after mowing. I would then use an appropriate statistical test on my data. Many of these tests are run on computers, so it will also work out the probability of differences between the two sets of data being due to chance or not. Scientists work on a probability of 5% being significant - this meaning that there is only a 5% probability that differences between the 'before and after' data occurred due to chance and therefore, there is a 95% probability that the differences are real and significant. If you get a probability greater than 5%, you cannot say that differences in your data are real. Even if on paper it looks like there is a difference! Scientists are very cautious by nature (mostly..).

I hope that doesn't come across as a load of waffle blush. And obviously I don't really spend my days counting dandelions....

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Tue 09-Oct-12 08:56:47

Mama - a name change to DandelionCounter may be required grin

Some of the posts on here are really informative! Hopefully when Science & Nature Club gets up and running I can link back to this thread which I think could provoke about five new discussions!

prettybird Tue 09-Oct-12 10:28:45

I noticed this morning on the breakfast TV that the (very attractive) lady who was talking about the forthcoming progamme on icebergs was described as a "Physicist and Oceanographer". smile

The guy she had been working with was described as "Diver and climber" (because those were the two roles he performed on the expedition) although I suspect he is also a scientist.

MrAnchovy Tue 09-Oct-12 12:10:06

@harbingerofdoom no, I am an accountant by my degree was in Maths.

harbingerofdoom Wed 10-Oct-12 20:30:11

I'm afraid that Stats just wasn't taught at my DD's school. They were given a few work sheets and then put in for the exam.
When the admission's tutor at DD2's college looked over the GCSE results, he rather wryly said that it was a shame about the A!

rogersmellyonthetelly Fri 12-Oct-12 09:29:02

There is definately some truth about how a sexist teacher can really put someone off a subject. I got an a* in physics at gcse, an a at as level, in the final year of a levels we had a new teacher. He was patronising sexist git and both myself and the other girl in my physics class of 15 had dropped out of the course within months. He basically ignored us, spent as little time as possible helping us before moving on to the boys, none of whom dropped out, and all of whom passed at c grade and above.

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