Memorandum submitted by the Equal Opportunities
The role of the Equal Opportunities Commission
1. The Equal Opportunities Commission was
established as an independent statutory body under the Sex Discrimination
Act 1975, (SDA) to:
work towards the elimination of discrimination
on the grounds of sex or marriage;
promote equality of opportunity for
women and men; and
keep under review the Sex Discrimination
Act and the Equal Pay Act.
The EOC is a non-departmental public body, funded
through grant-in-aid. Our sponsor department is the Women and
Equality Unit at the Cabinet Office.
2. The EOC is pleased to provide the Committee
with this memorandum outlining gender issues in science education
3. The EOC has identified breaking down
male and female stereotypes as one of its key objectives. Traditional
attitudes to working and caring limit life chances for women and
men. Promoting equality demands challenges to outdated roles and
changes which open up wider opportunities for both sexes.
4. Sex-stereotyping affects young people
in all aspects of their lives, including education. Subject and
career decisions provide clear evidence of how stereotyping currently
limits choice. While the SDA has been successful in opening up
all subjects at school, the challenge is to ensure that young
people enjoy and progress in non-traditional subjects so that
they have access to a wider range of good career opportunities.
5. The EOC's work on stereotyping takes
the form of a campaign "What's Stopping You?" which
targets young people with posters and postcards, and policy recommendations
for action by government and others, which are set out in this
memorandum for the Committee to consider for inclusion in its
6. Additional sources of information are
listed in Annex A. A mapping of organisations and activities currently
addressing girls and science issues is set out in Annex B.
The gender issue in science
7. Government has identified shortfall in
the supply of scientists, engineers and computer scientists as
a problem which needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency to
support international competitiveness and economic growth. These
professions are almost exclusively male. Since more than half
the young people in the country are female, the under-representation
of women in science is a waste of valuable resource.
8. For women, achieving science qualifications,
can and should open up many more career opportunities. Yet despite
girls' improvements in academic achievements and the attainment
of science GCSE, the labour market still presents a picture of
women segregated into traditional and non-SET occupational sectors
with low pay and poor career prospects.
9. Educational achievement for all as the
key to good life chances is high on the Government's agenda. Rightly,
boys' relative underachievement in secondary education overall
has been identified as a focus for government action. However,
the gender issues in relation to science are about girls rather
than boys. Current education practice fails to engage the majority
of girls with science and IT so that very few progress to A level
and beyond. The EOC believes that action is needed to target the
problem and to develop practical solutions.
The current situation
10. Girls' participation in science and
their attainments are broadly equal to boys up to age 16. But
girls opt out of physical science and ICT as soon as it becomes
optional and there is a significant gender gap in entry to A level
11. Before 1988, more boys than girls studied
physics and chemistry subjects up to age 16. In 1981, 45,000 girls
entered physics "O" level compared with 131,000 boys.
The situation was reversed in relation to biology where girls
outnumbered boys by almost two to one.
12. Since the introduction of the national
curriculum in 1988, science has been compulsory for all pupils
from 5-16. Current statistics show that entries and achievements
are now broadly even with girls achieving a higher per cent of
grades A-C in single and double award general science and more
boys than girls being entered for all the single sciences.
GCSEYOUNG PEOPLE IN SCHOOLENGLAND
| ||Entries thousands'
||% pass A-C*||Entries thousands'
||% pass A-C*|
Statistical First Release November 2001 SFR 45/2001.
*As a percentage of 15 year olds attempting the subject.
13. It is significant that the cut-off point for girls'
engagement with physical science comes when science is no longer
compulsory and the opportunity is presented at 16 to choose either
to continue to A level, or to opt for different subjects. The
following picture emerges:
SUCCESS RATE AT GCSE A LEVEL SELECTED SUBJECTS 2000-01
PROVISIONAL FIGURESCANDIDATES AGED 17-18
English is by far the most popular A level choice for girls,
although it is significant that English is also top choice for
boyswith physics a close second. Once again, boys dominate
entry for physics while more girls than boys opt for biology.
Chemistry entry is broadly similar. It is interesting to note
that girls have a slightly higher success rate than boys in all
"A" level sciences.
14. Girls' ability to achieve in science is evidenced
not only by GCSE and A level results but also by SAT results:
SCIENCE SATsPROVISIONAL 2001
|Key Stage 1 (5-7)
||Key Stage 2 (7-11)
||Key Stage 3 (11-14)
|Teacher assessment level
|test level 4|
|test level 5|
|test level 5|
|test level 6|
15. When given the opportunity or when they are obliged
to study science, girls of all ages perform as well, or better,
than boys. The decision to opt out of science is, therefore, one
of choice rather than ability. A compulsory curriculum has delayed
the exercise of choice and enabled girls to achieve science knowledge
and skills at GCSE level. Young women with scientific and IT skills
will have wider career choices with greater opportunity for economic
independence than those with only arts subjects at GCSEif
their enthusiasm for science can be secured at school.
Implications for 14-19 science education
16. There are clear policy lessons for maximising attainment
and securing progression for girls:
the compulsory nature of the science curriculum
has secured girls' performance and engagement with science; the
science entitlement to age 16 should remain so that opting out
is delayed as long as possible; and
there is a need to understand why girls opt out
of school science and to implement solutions which will remove
stereotyped choices and improve engagement and progression.
The national curriculum entitlement to science
17. In its response to the White Paper "SchoolsAchieving
Success", the EOC made the following comments and recommendations
in relation to proposed changes to 14-19 education:
To mainstream equality into proposals, policy
development needs to be informed by the knowledge that national
curriculum entitlement has been good in improving engagement of
girls with non-traditional subjects. Creating greater flexibility
in the key stage 4 curriculum must be introduced in such a way
that girls are not enabled to disengage with science and ICT in
order to enter traditional vocational routeways. Increased flexibility
must be accompanied by improved guidance and intervention strategies
to challenge stereotyping and widen choice.
The EOC could not support any legislative change
which reduced the entitlement curriculum at key stage 4 in such
a way that pupils were enabled to opt out of key national curriculum
subjects and were enabled instead to opt into vocational subjects
and routeways which could reduce their opportunity to maximise
achievement, progression and pay.
Any consideration of changes to 14-19 education,
including the content of the proposed additional consultation
document should include discussion of how benefits for girls and
boys can be maximised.
Why girls opt out and what solutions work
18. There have been several recent research reports investigating
the reasons why girls opt out of science and what strategies appear
to be effective in securing engagement and progression. The "Cracking
"The answers are many and varied. Factors that seem to
emerge include the way science is taught, the preconceptions and
stereotypes held by girls and boys and men and women about the
nature of work in SET, the lack of role models and, in the past,
the negative attitudes of some employers to employing womenalthough
this has changed radically in recent years".
19. A literature review
for the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHFC) as part
of an initiative to encourage more women to choose SET, identified
key factors which appeared to underlie the persistent gendered
patterns of pupils' subject options in schools including: early
socialisation, guidance and careers advice, teachers and teaching
and work experience. Similar factors were identified in Breaking
the Mould, a DTI report
containing an analysis of 100 research projects aimed at breaking
down barriers to female participation in SET.
Attitudes, Pre-conceptions and Stereotypes
20. Research commissioned by the Promoting SET for Women
Unit in the Office of Science and Technology DTI,
for their campaign to challenge the negative perception of careers
in science and engineering among 14-16 year old girls, provides
more detailed evidence on why and how girls are put off science:
They often have different value systems to boys
and prioritise human, global and environmental issues more highly.
Their perception of science as impersonal and
value-free often alienates them from it and reduces their interest
in following it as a career path.
Girls generally prefer subjects that they see
as more creative and socially relevant, where there is a degree
of involvement through debate.
There is also evidence that girls are discouraged
by the image of science as male-dominated, aggressive and competitive.
21. The report highlights three key areas for action
to help make science and engineering careers material more appealing
to girls and contains good practice guidelines for each of the
Humanise and personalise science as much as possible.
Address issues of confidence.
Make material appealing and relevant to the target
22. The report encourages taking a fresh approach to
engaging girls in SET. Careers materials must motivate the needs
of all girls, or target separately girls with either high or low
aspirations. By projecting an image that girls can relate to on
a personal and emotional level, the message that SET jobs can
be for them may be better heard.
23. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that
early socialisation disposes girls and boys to different perceptions
of science and technology (Stanworth, 1981:
Kelly, 1985; Smail,
1985; Smithers &
Zientek, 1991). EOC
research on the development of gender roles in young children,
2001 confirmed that
attitudes towards gender and what is seen as gender appropriate
behaviour are formed in early childhood and influence choices
and decisions which are made throughout life. The research recommends
intervening in the early learning and play experiences of young
people to ensure that their development is free from stereotyping.
Guidance and careers advice
24. The SHEFC research review identified the significance
of guidance teachers not being experts in science. It also found
that careers materials used in Britain from 1970s until 1998 equated
male with practical and female with caring jobs. The Connexions
remit includes promoting equality, challenging stereotyping and
widening career choice and partnerships are required to develop
an equal opportunities strategy and delivery plan as part of their
business plans. It is hoped that this will lead to more action
to encourage non-traditional choices by girls and boys.
Teachers and Teaching
25. All the research identifies good teaching as the
most salient factor in uptake of physics by boys as well as girls.
There is recognition that some specific classroom strategies will
make a positive difference. These include:
Intervention in the curriculumthis needs
to extend beyond repackaging science to remove masculine associations,
to making science courses attractive, motivating and relevant
to girls, and taking into account their interests and abilities
and their preferred learning styles.
Environment and resourcesscience classrooms
need to be more "girl friendly" and curriculum materials
need to be appealing and relevant to the target age group.
Classroom settingresearch supports the
view that girls benefit from working without the distraction of
boys although mere segregation is not an automatic guarantee of
success, and that girls and boys approach groupwork in quite different
ways. Recent research by Arnot and Gibb
has found that some strategies to lift boys' performance could
have bad side-effects for female classmates. In particular, popular
current practice of setting boy/girl, boy/girl is not good for
engaging girls, particularly in science and ICT. It is suggested
that all-female and all-male groupings in the classroom should
Role modelsthe lack of female teachers
as role models for participation in science is evident throughout
schooling. Strategies to attract women into science teaching generally,
and into specific posts in schools are needed.
26. The SHEFC Research concluded that schools need to
be empowered and teachers need to be supported in increasing the
opportunities for girls in the curriculum and in developing inclusive
teaching methods, and to involve parents. It stated: "With
the current emphasis on school standards, it is easy to lose sight
of the persistence of gendered option choices, which are not subject
to the same intense monitoring. Such an oversight would be a disservice,
firstly to girls and women, and secondly to science, which would
suffer a continuing decline as a higher education and career goal."
27. The SHEFC research found that pupils' choices for
placements show traditional gendered patterns, especially in male-dominated
"installation, maintenance and repair" and "technical
and scientific" occupations, and in "community and health",
the most female-dominated choice. Teachers still play safe by
arranging gender-stereotyped pupils' placements and girls themselves
often make choices based upon previous experience. The research
advocated more creative solutions to gendered work experience
such as community-based work projects, which apply science and
technology in the human context.
28. While there is no data on work experience placements
in England, anecdotal evidence discussed at the conference: "Work
Experience in the 21st Century", in 2001, confirmed that
work experience placements for boys and girls reflect the traditional
gender segregation of the labour market with very few young people
having any exposure to experiences which might widen their career
mind-set. Decisions on placements are often made by teachers on
the basis that the type of work is less important than the experience
of being in a work situation. CITB research has found that many
young people are greatly influenced in their subsequent career
choice by the type of employment in which they have been placed
for work experience. This signals the importance of providing
a wider range of experiences to girls and boys.
29. The benefits of non-traditional work placements has
been evidenced by the success of the taster days run by the Women's
Unit in 2001. Leading employers in work areas such as construction,
engineering, IT and telecommunications offered a range of activities
to young women. Girls were asked if they would like to work in
the industry they had experienced and 83 per cent expressed a
positive interest. 100 per cent thought that taster days should
become part of the school curriculum to enable girls to make more
informed choices. The Women's Unit recommended that the taster
days initiative should be extended and the EOC fully supports
The role of employers
30. In the past, SET employment has presented an unattractive
and unwelcoming image to girls and this, together with discrimination
in recruitment has
acted as a disincentive for girls to engage with science at school.
This is changing as the business benefits of recruiting from a
wider pool are realised. Many of the large SET employers are now
taking positive steps to recruit more women and changing work-place
practices to meet the work-life balance needs of their employees.
Employers can assist in creating enthusiasm for science by working
in partnership to develop positive action strategies in the workplace
and in schools to improve the image and appeal of SET. Women working
in SET, particularly recent school leavers, can provide important
role models and ambassadors in schools.
31. In its White Paper Response the EOC makes the following
recommendations to Government for improving engagement and progression
in science in the 14-19 curriculum:
The non-traditional taster days and work experience
initiative should be extended and offered as part of the curriculum
entitlement for girls and boys.
As part of science year, there should be a focus
on developing girls' participation and progression in science
post-16. Information on approaches to science teaching which make
the subject attractive to girls, should be shared widely.
The proposals to extend school specialisms to
include engineering, science, business and enterprise, and mathematics
and computing should be implemented with particular care to avoid
reinforcing traditional gender stereotypes. The EOC advocates
positive efforts to encourage applications for new specialist
status from girls' as well as boys' secondary schools.
The proposal to establish a network of advanced
status schools which promote innovative practice, provides an
excellent opportunity for innovation around attracting girls to
engineering, science, mathematics and computing, and securing
progression in these traditionally male subjects.
Learning models and interventions should be developed
which can be piloted in schools to challenge stereotyped decision-making
and widen choice of non-traditional subjects.
We would like to see the Government setting up
a challenge or pathways initiative with funding which can be accessed
by schools for projects. The aim of the initiative would be to
maximise individual gain from the changes to the 14-19 curriculum
and one of the criteria for accessing funds should be a commitment
to challenging stereotyping and improving take-up of science and
32. Girls' participation and achievements in science
to age 16 can be regarded as one of the recent success stories
of education. Action to secure these gains and to build greater
engagement and progression post-16 will bring double benefitsfor
individual girls and for the GB economy. The EOC invites the Committee
to adopt the recommendations in this submission for inclusion
in its own Report.
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