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How to inspire girls to do well in maths

Five of the UK’s finest A-level maths students are competing in Italy this week against teams from 50 other countries in the European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad

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Five of the UK’s finest A-level maths students are competing in Italy this week against teams from 50 other countries in the European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad

Problems they’ll have to solve include some of the “hardest maths problems in the world for school-aged mathematicians.”

But it’s a challenge in which team member Emily Beatty is keen “to do herself proud.”

The Year 13 pupil, from King Edward VII School, in Sheffield, said: “I’ve always found elegance in doing mathematics, like in the way structures weave into each other and allow you to uncover the truth.”

The five team members were selected by the UK Mathematics Trust (UKMT), a charity established in 1996 to advance the education of young people in maths.

UKMT spokesman Dominic Yeo said: "You don't need advanced knowledge to handle the papers - more often a flash of ingenuity to piece together some simple ideas will do. The tasks lie somewhere between cute puzzles and hard problems in modern mathematics. Almost anything can come up, from finding the best arrangement of rooks on a chessboard to the behaviour of imaginary curves near infinity."

More than 200 pupils are taking part in the tournament, in Florence, Italy, this week. And there is no monetary prize – only medals and trophies – in what is considered the most prestigious school maths competition in the world.

Emily’s maths teacher Graham Harvey said there was a gender imbalance among higher-level maths pupils, but said older pupils were good role models.

He said: “Probably the biggest impact on Emily was from one of our former students – another girl – currently at Cambridge studying maths. We have always encouraged our older students to help us run clubs for the younger ones. Emily herself is currently mentoring one of our Year 10 students. We also have a significant number of female maths teachers in the department.

“Supporting students to be successful in maths is about setting high expectations for them. The nature of these depends massively on the strength of the group, but if we’re talking about a high ability group, then having that expectation that they will study maths beyond GCSE is essential. Making sure students are entered into maths competitions, like those run by UKMT, and giving them time to practice and prepare for them.”

The other UK team members, all in Year 12 or 13, are Melissa Quail (Longsands Academy, Cambridgeshire), Alevtina Studenikina (Cheltenham Ladies College), Naomi Wei (City of London Girls' School) and reserve team member Yukha Machino (Millfield School, Somerset).

The UK team is sponsored by investment management firm Man Group.

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