What we're doing to address gender imbalance in physics
For more than 30 years there has been very little change in the proportion of girls studying physics post-16. This is a pressing issue of social equality, justice, and mobility. Currently, only around 20% of students progressing on to A-level are girls, and around 30% of Scottish higher physics students are female. We proactively tackle this imbalance through education research, partnerships, and work in schools.
We are currently running the following gender balance programmes:
- Improving Gender Balance (England) is a national research trial, funded by the Department for Education and led by the IOP in partnership with UCL Institute of Education. We are recruiting selected secondary schools to help us increase the proportion of girls choosing to progress to A-level physics.
- Gender Action is an award programme which promotes and supports a whole-school approach to challenging stereotypes. Gender Action is a partnership between the Institute of Physics, King's College London, UCL Institute of Education and the University Council of Modern Languages. Funding from the Mayor of London has enabled a 2019 rollout in the capital.
- Improving Gender Balance (Ireland) In Ireland, typically only 13-14% of students choose to study physics at upper second level and complete the Leaving Certificate Physics Examination and of this cohort only 25-26% are girls. Improving Gender Balance in Ireland is a three-year national collaborative project led by CASTeL at Dublin City University, in partnership with the Institute of Physics and Science Foundation Ireland. This study is being carried out in collaboration with principals, teachers and students from seven second level schools with the specific aims of enhancing science teachers’ approaches to the teaching and learning of physics in Junior Cycle science, increasing awareness of STEM careers and employing a whole school approach to addressing unconscious bias and gender stereotyping and build confidence and resilience for students.
- Improving Gender Balance (Wales) As of the 2018-2019 school year, girls made up only 23% of the physics A-level cohort in Wales. The Welsh Government is funding a one year pilot project from April 2019 to March 2020, to work with two clusters of secondary schools and a selection of their feeder primary schools to identify and address issues around gender imbalance in subject choices. The interventions will be bespoke to each school, according to their needs. A programme of support will be developed in the autumn term based on an analysis of the school, meetings with staff and pupils, and looking at data and policies. The actions set out in the programme will then commence in the spring term, including elements such as inclusive teaching workshops and IOP coach attendance at options evenings and parents evenings in order to engage the wider school community.
- Improving Gender Balance (Scotland) IOP ran a three year (2015 – 2018) IGB Scotland pilot, in partnership with Skills Development Scotland and Education Scotland. The pilot worked with six school clusters: each cluster consisted of a secondary school and its associated primary schools and early learning and childcare centres. Read the final evaluation of the project. The Scottish Government has recognised the benefits of the approach, and has asked for the learning from the pilot to be rolled out across Scotland. A team of 6 officers, based within Education Scotland, have started to work regionally, with an aim of embedding the learning form the pilot across all early years centres, primary and secondary schools by 2022.
These resources are shaped by research and help schools to address gender imbalance and promote equality.
Reports and research
We’ve published several reports investigating the gender imbalance of physics A-level and issues around equality in education.
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