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By the numbers - Science gender gap

The astronomer and newly appointed presenter of the BBC's The Sky at Night Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock recently called for work to be done to break down barriers stopping women and people from ethnic minorities from studying and pursuing careers in science.

In the UK, 15-year-old boys outperform girls in science by one of the biggest margins in the developed world, according to scores from the most recent set of Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests.

The Association for Science Education's annual conference, held last week in Birmingham, included a session on how to interest girls in physics. It came after a recent study by the UK's Institute of Physics found that girls in single-sex schools were more than twice as likely to study an A level in the subject as those in co-educational schools.

But data from Pisa shows that in more than half the 65 countries that participated in the tests, the scores achieved in science by girls and boys were not significantly different.

An earlier Pisa study from 2006, however, showed that girls and boys had different strengths in science - girls were better at working out scientific investigations, while boys were better at using their existing scientific knowledge to answer questions.

In the countries where the size of the gender gap changed between the Pisa results of 2006 and those of 2012, the change always favoured girls.

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