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Girls hit by negative forces in the lab

Julie Henry reports on the issues raised at the Association for Science Education's annual conference.

TEENAGE girls are being frozen out of science lessons by boys who hog the Bunsen burners and other equipment - and teachers are doing little to help, new research has found.

Science was the only subject in this year's national tests for 14-year-olds in which boys did better than girls. They also outperform girls at GCSE and A-level and more carry on studying science post 16.

International comparisons reveal that the science gender gap is wider in England than elsewhere.

Boys are achieving their success at the expense of girls, according to a five-year study, involving observations of secondary science lessons.

The study by Professor Michael Reiss, of London University's Institute of Education, found that at the start of Year 7, girls and boys' participation in lessons was roughly equal. But by the end of the school year, girls had virtually stopped talking to their teacher about the subject, Professor Reiss told delegates to the Association for Science Education conference at Surrey University last week.

Boys made more of an impact in class, so that even after severa lessons, a number of teachers could not immediately recall the names of some of the girls.

Boys muscled in on scarce equipment and were unlikely to be repriimanded by the teacher.

And the study found that boys used the equipment and freedom of movement found in science classes to make sexually explicit comments and gestures which made girls uncomfortable. In one lesson, boys chased girls around the lab putting ice cubes in their breast pockets.

Professor Reiss said: "By December of the first term at secondary school, boys dominated lessons. It happens very quickly and is very difficult to turn around. Teachers seemed to be unaware of it."

In a bid to encourage girls to take a more positive view of science, a new teen-mag for 11 to 14-year-olds has been launched, funded by the Department of Trade and Industry.

The glossy magazine called Spark has a celebrity corner which reveals superstars who have studied science, news on the latest mobile phones and a photo-shoot with two youngsters given pound;100 each to shop for clothes on the cutting-edge of textile technology.

For a free copy of "Spark" contact Freepost SEA5624, Sevenoaks, Kent TN14 5BR, quote URN 001365

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