School clusters aim to end gender stereotypes

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A pilot project aimed at breaking down gender stereotypes in certain subjects is to see clusters of schools working to identify best practice.

The work is to focus on STEM and tackling the problems of low take-up among girls within these subjects.

Entitled Opening Doors, the project is backed by the Government Equalities Office and is being led by the Institute of Physics (IoP), which will be working with two clusters of schools in North Somerset and Sussex.

It comes after research data, published by the IoP late last year in its Closing Doors report, presented a national picture of subject choice trends and suggested that the vast majority of schools do little to counter gender prejudices.

The IoP has already been working with university physics departments to identify and reward best practice in addressing the under-representation of women in university physics as part of its Project Juno initiative. The new project is to draw on this expertise.

The pilot will see taskforces set up within each cluster of schools comprising teachers and senior managers, as well as academics from Project Juno and representatives from the IoP. There will be between six and 10 schools in each cluster.

Each taskforce will visit schools in its cluster to research and prepare guidelines and recommendations on best practice to “ensure students are not left with gender-prejudiced biases about the subjects they study or the career choices they make”. 

Dr Frances Saunders, IoP president, said: “Physics has a pipeline problem. Despite the fact that A level physics is now the second most popular subject for boys, it languishes in 18th place for girls.

“If the UK is going to meet the science and engineering challenges of the 21st century then we need to engage a larger number of girls and inspire them to get involved.

“We also need to continue to show that studying science and engineering opens doors to the widest range of the most rewarding careers.

“Our research suggests that this is something that cannot be done by the science department alone; whole school environments need to reflect on the gender roles they propagate via often subtle, unintentional but deeply ingrained cultural influences.”

The project was launched by women and equalities minister Jenny Willott during a visit to Highams Park School in east London last week.

She said: “No student should feel restricted by their gender. Gender stereotypes for too long have stopped girls and women pursuing careers in fields such as engineering, scientific research and manufacturing.”

She continued: “We want to stamp that out and make sure that no student is ever put off pursuing a passion because of society’s prejudices about certain careers. 

“This is a very exciting project which will shed a light on how teachers and schools can improve the rate of girls taking up science and maths.” 

Visit www.iop.org


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