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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?

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.

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 03-Oct-12 10:30:18

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?

worldgonecrazy Wed 03-Oct-12 10:53:33

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 -

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.

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