Physics still seen as 'for boys and clever kids'


Girls are "closing the door" on lucrative careers involving physics because the subject is still seen as the domain of "boys and clever kids".

Girls are “closing the door” on lucrative careers involving physics because the subject is still seen as the domain of “boys and clever kids”.

It is also claimed that poor careers advice and a lack of discussion about the subject’s benefits, is not helping the situation.

Carol Davenport, professional development lead at the National Science Learning Centre, which offers CPD to science teachers, said that despite efforts over the last two decades to change its reputation and perception among pupils, physics was still seen as a being “for clever kids and for boys”.

She explained: “In some ways it is a self-selecting group of girls who want to do physics because they excel at the subject, or need it to go on to study something like medicine at university.

“But what we need to do is to get the message across that physics is useful in a wide range of interesting roles and jobs and by not considering these, girls are shutting the door on some lucrative careers.”

It comes as a report has revealed that no girls take physics A level in almost half of schools. The study, from the Institute of Physics (IoP), found that 46 per cent of state schools registered no girls for the exam while for boys the same was true in just 12 per cent of schools.

Girls were two and a half times more likely to choose to continue with physics at 16 if they were from a girls’ rather than a mixed school, and four times as likely to do so if they went to private school.

Take-up of the subject might increase if girls were made more aware of the importance of physics to certain jobs from primary school upwards, Ms Davenport said.

She added that many teachers were already putting the subject in context by displaying posters of occupations that required physics, but better careers advice was needed and from an earlier age to raise awareness.

Experts said the IoP figures raised questions over whether teachers were stereotyping boys and girls with old-fashioned attitudes about physics being a male-dominated subject.

Professor Sir Peter Knight, president of the IoP, said: “The English teacher who looks askance at the girl who takes an interest in physics or the lack of female physicists on television, for example, can play a part in forming girls’ perceptions of the subject.

“We need to ensure that we are not unfairly prejudicing girls against a subject that they could hugely benefit from engaging with.” 

Last year’s exams entries showed that physics was the fourth most popular A level subject for boys but only 19th among girls. Just 20 per cent of all physics candidates were girls in 2011, with 6,159 girls and 23,811 boys sitting the exam.

In mixed state schools, just two per cent of girls took a physics A level compared with seven per cent in chemistry and 12 per cent in biology.

The report can be downloaded at


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