Business leaders want schools and colleges to set themselves boardroom style “gender diversity targets” to reduce the number of girls opting out of sixth-form science.
They are concerned that female take-up for some science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects remains stubbornly low.
In a report published this morning, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) argues that schools should follow the example of the government-commissioned Davies review into female boardroom representation.
The 2011 report called on heads of top companies to set out the percentages of women they aim to have on their boards.
Today’s CBI report says: “It is time for providers of education and training in Stem subjects to set clear targets and plans for addressing the issue of poor take-up of subjects among women.
“Drawing on the experience of business, and the Davies review in particular, every school, sixth form, college and university should be setting a target for female participation and reporting against it.
“This approach is working to change the senior teams of a large of businesses and it will help focus the minds of education providers too.”
But heads’ leaders say that while they also want to see more girls opt for maths and science A-levels they are wary of targets.
The CBI report says “good progress” has been made ensuring that students of both genders study STEM subjects up to GCSE level.
But female participation is still falling off at A-level in some subjects. In physics it says that girls made up just 21 per cent of entrants, with 29 per cent in further maths and 39 per cent in maths.
It argues that employers need to “draw on the whole of the UK talent pool”. “The diversity it brings would seed the innovation that is so vital to our economy,” the report says.
Other recommendations include encouraging all schools to offer three sciences at GCSE and more University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools to “give young people exciting Stem options”.
Brian Lightman, Association of School and College Leaders general secretary, said: “School leaders are very aware of the gender gap between subject choices, especially in Stem subjects.
“It is important that schools monitor their take up very closely to ensure that pupils do receive the appropriate expert guidance to ensure they don’t fall into stereotypical decisions.
“But we would wary of targets. The trouble with them is they become an accountability measure rather than actually working together as a profession on something that we all agree is an important priority.”