Girls avoid A-level physics because they don’t like ‘hard math’, says head of social mobility | education

The government’s Social Mobility Commissioner claimed that girls don’t choose A-level physics because they don’t like “hard math”, much to the chagrin of top scientists.

Addressing a STEM inquiry about diversity and inclusion in Stem (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), Catherine Berbalsingh said that fewer girls chose physics because “physics is not something girls tend to fantasize about. They don’t want to do it, they don’t like it,” she said. “.

Only 16% of A-level physics students at her school are girls – less than the national average of 23%, said Birpalsingh, principal of Michaela Community School in Wembley, northwest London. When asked why so few girls progress to an A in physics, despite outperforming boys in GCSE, she said, “I just think they don’t like it. There’s a lot of hard math out there that I think they’d rather not do.”

“Research in general… just says this is normal,” she added. “I don’t think there is anything external.”

Berbalsingh, a graduate of French and philosophy, said there was “certainly no campaign” for more girls to study physics. “I don’t mind that there’s only 16%,” she said. “I want them to do what they want to do.”

Dame Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics and Masters at Churchill College in Cambridge, said the comments were “terrifying” and “extremely harmful” and questioned what research Pirpalsing was referring to in suggesting girls have a fundamental lack of appetite for mathematics and physics.

“It’s not a case of campaigning for more girls to do physics, it’s a case of making sure that such observations don’t discourage girls,” Donald said. “We want girls to be free to pursue what they are good at, and equally, boys should also be able to pursue professions like nursing. We are not in a society like that.”

Dr Jess Wade, a physicist at Imperial College London who campaigns for equality in science said: ‘I honestly can’t believe we’re still having this conversation. It’s caring, it’s infuriating, and it closes the doors to exciting careers in physics and engineering for generations of young women.’ While the Girls and boys currently choose A-level subjects differently, there is absolutely no evidence to show fundamental differences in their abilities or preferences.”

Comments come after girls Outperformed the boys in both A-level math and GCSE For the first time last year.

research It was highlighted by the Institute of Physics that girls in single-sex schools are two and a half times more likely to progress to A-level physics, compared to co-ed schools, which said gender biases played a role in A-level selection.

The report concluded that teacher-student relationships played an important role in A-level choices and that gender stereotyping by teachers, parents, and media remains a problem, with a recommendation that all teachers be trained in unconscious biases and gender stereotypes.

Professor Catherine Knox, a mechanical engineer at the University of Leeds and a prominent member of the government’s Sage panel during the pandemic, said: “It is really disappointing to see comments like this being based on incorrect assumptions about gender differences and what appears to be a lack of interest until exploring the reasons behind it. .

“Girls are often told that mathematics, physics and engineering are not for them and this is conditioned by society.

“In some cases, this includes the expectations and attitudes of teachers in schools, but it is also pervasive in games and clothing that target them. Science and technology careers are so diverse and rewarding that we need to ensure that opportunities are open to all, and are not closed off by assumptions and stereotypes at a young age.”