Science divide starts in primary

24th August 2007 at 01:00
GENDER STEREOTYPING is "readily apparent" in primary school physics and biology, a National Primary Science survey shows.

Women teachers said they felt more competent to teach life processes. Men said they felt better able to teach electricity, forces and motion, the Earth and beyond.

Although primary teachers feel generally well equipped to teach science, "the status of science as a core curriculum area remains problematic," said researchers at Bishop Grosseteste University College in Lincoln, who surveyed 303 primary teachers and heads. The findings come amid continued concern from the Government and leaders of industry about low numbers of school leavers pursuing the sciences.

Subjects such as physics are particularly unpopular with girls. This study indicates one factor may be the lack of confident female role- models teaching physics.

Professor John Sharp, the lead author, said the gender divide had been a perennial problem in primary science, with the dominance of women teachers meaning that subjects such as physics suffered.

Professor Derek Bell, head of the Association for Science Education, said schools had made progress in breaking down the gender divide, but much more needs to be done.

"The gender divide is an economic problem in the sense that we are missing out on girls doing physics. And in my field, biology, there aren't enough boys," he said. "That has an impact on the overall numbers going on to study science."

Girls were more interested in physics in a human context, such as using X-ray scanners, he said.

"In terms of numbers, China and India are producing many, many more scientists and engineers. In terms of quality, England is still performing well," he said.

"The economy needs more scientists and engineers, but more, we need a wider population that understands the importance of science."

The Department for Children, Schools and Families said the survey showed primary science teaching was in "good health", and the new national network of Science Learning Centres would provide professional development, encouraging inspirational teaching.

Andy Davey, page 15

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