Commenting on the OECD report ‘The ABC of Gender Equality in Education’, the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) says that environment can have a positive impact on girls’ self-confidence in maths and science.
GSA president Alun Jones says: “We teach high-performing girls and in our experience being taught in a predominantly all-girl environment can increase girls’ self-confidence in both maths and science. We see this in the sheer numbers of girls in our schools who choose to pursue maths and science at A level and at university.”
According to the GSA, girls at association schools are:
• 75 percent more likely to take maths A-level1
• 70 percent more likely to take chemistry1
• 2.5 times as likely to take physics1
• 55 percent take at least one STEM subject at A level
Whilst the OECD report finds that girls have a residual anxiety about maths, in GSA girls’ schools, students comprise around 16 percent of the UK’s A-level entries in further maths and yet they are awarded around 25 percent of the A* grades.
It is common for GSA schools to have anything from a third to over 60 percent of their sixth-form girls pursuing maths and sciences at A level. The GSA’s membership includes schools where maths is the most popular A-level subject, schools where half or more of sixth-form girls continue to study maths or science at university, and schools where girls routinely go on to study engineering, computing and the physical sciences at university.
Mr Jones agrees with the OECD finding that girls are less inclined than boys to risk failure – what the OECD calls “thinking like a scientist” – but says that, when you take away the anxiety of having to perform in front of boys, girls are more inclined to take those calculated risks.
He goes on to say: “What’s important is that girls have every opportunity to get used to associating themselves with science roles from an early age, whether that’s by building robots or designing computer programmes. We’re dealing with centuries of gender bias and what people and parents think and say, often without realising it, does influence children’s expectations of themselves. Girls’ schools can’t eradicate this kind of cultural conditioning, but we can take significant steps towards minimising it and the results indicate that this does boost girls’ confidence in their maths and science abilities.”