Girls are doing significantly better than boys in high-level school qualifications – even in subjects that tend to attract far more boys, a new report shows.
Yet the same research highlights that girls remain unlikely to take subjects such as physics and computing, and are drawn in hugely disproportionate numbers to qualifications associated with lower-paid professions.
The “worrying” analysis has prompted calls for more female role models in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) and a concerted effort to end gender stereotyping around careers. The Scottish government report – Learner Journey: analysis of Scottish education and training provision for 15- to 24-year-olds – draws on data from a wide range of existing research, which often shows girls and women doing better.
In school qualifications, even though there are slightly fewer girls in Scotland’s secondary schools, they provide 55 per cent of entries at both Higher and Advanced Higher. Boys predominate in lower-level qualifications, such as National 2, with 62 per cent of entries.
Girls also post better results at both Higher and Advanced Higher – and outperform boys in Higher subjects where there are far more boys. At Advanced Higher, the report says, girls do better in “male-dominated” subjects such as computing science, physics and mathematics of mechanics.
Yet girls largely avoid subjects such as computing science and engineering science and (with just 15 and 8 per cent of Higher entries, respectively). In stark contrast, they provide an overwhelming majority of Higher entries in childcare and development (95 per cent) and care (92 per cent).
Talat Yaqoob, director of Equate Scotland, which promotes gender equality in Stem, said that the report “clearly evidences that the gender segregation between subjects is not about competency or merit, it is about choices made through the influence of gender stereotyping”. She added that it is “crucial” that both girls and boys see the “full spectrum of careers” – to prevent girls being “locked out” of sectors where jobs and economic growth are forecast to grow, such as engineering, computer science, manufacturing and physics.
Patrycja Kupiec, director of YWCA Scotland – The Young Women’s Movement, described the Stem figures as “worrying”. She said: “As a young woman and someone with a background in and passion for Stem, I often felt like I had to work twice as hard to prove myself as a scientist – and my career choices were constantly questioned.”
A Scottish government spokeswoman said equity is a key theme in its Stem strategy for education, which promotes a better gender balance in Stem subjects and careers. The government also supports the Institute of Physics’ Improving Gender Balance project, which challenges gender stereotyping in schools and nurseries.
She added: “Our Stem strategy will expand this project to all schools, to further raise awareness of gender bias with parents, families and teachers, and to encourage more girls to aspire to Stem studies and careers.”
This is an edited version of an article in the 30 March edition of Tes Scotland. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.