Girls don't like hard maths
Louise Maule is project lead at Maths4Girls, an organisation that allows educators to invite female (and male) role models who work within maths-based sectors such as finance, computing and STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) into the classroom to inspire and encourage students to take maths beyond GCSE.
You may have seen the media coverage surrounding this statement made during the Diversity and Inclusion in STEM parliamentary inquiry. And some of the many responses including from the Royal Society. What did you think? Did you recognise this issue, or attitudes, from your classroom experience?
Currently, girls in further education are underrepresented in STEM related subjects. In fact, girls are only half as likely as boys to choose maths post-16, despite having similar or better performance in GCSE exams. This limits their career opportunities and earning potential. The imbalance is due to a range of factors but ability is not one of them!
This disparity exists across England; gender disparities exist in all parts of England and at every kind of school. Indeed, they tend to be bigger at schools with low levels of disadvantage, where STEM subjects are more popular across the board but gender differences tend to be even more pronounced. You can read more about this on our blog post from Timo Hannay of School Dash.
What can we do about it?
The reasons for this disparity are many (see UK Mathematics 14-19: the Gender Jigsaw and Encouraging Girls' Participation in Advanced Maths).
However, educators can play a key role in influencing attitudes towards maths and STEM subjects. The AMSP have a range of excellent, evidence based resources including Five Factors Which Influence Students’ Participation in Post-16 Maths, and strategies to address them.
These factors are:
Prior (relative) attainment
Although ability is not a factor, it is true that unconscious gender bias, lack of career awareness, and unhelpful stereotypes around STEM jobs can deter young people particularly girls from engaging with maths and maths careers. At Maths4Girls we seek to change this.
The power of role models
We want every young person to pursue any career opportunity they wish regardless of their gender, stereotypes, lack of career awareness and understanding of the opportunities that maths can lead to. Our aim is to inspire all young people, particularly girls, to pursue maths post-16 by showing them the fantastic opportunities that maths can offer.
We do this by using relatable, inspiring role models who use maths in their jobs.
“Routinely using examples of the applications of mathematics - in STEM but also in social science, personal life and wider society, and especially in relation to people-facing roles or issues - tells girls (and boys) that becoming a user of mathematics is relevant for them. Routine use of role models and reference to applications of mathematics, at all levels, provide examples of the kind of success that one may achieve and also often supply a template of the behaviours necessary for success, especially if stereotypes are also challenged in a low-key way.
(Mendick et al., 2008).”
How we can support you
Do your pupils ever ask ‘but when will I need this?’ Would you like to be able to link careers to your maths curriculum? And introduce your pupils to people who use maths every day in a range of amazing jobs? Maths4Girls can help you!
Book your own M4G event
Our free online platform enables you to book your own maths career insight and inspiration events. Fantastic Maths4Girls role models share insights of the job they do, how it uses maths, and how they got there.
Join us online
Use the M4G resources
Our website offers a range of resources including a focus each month on a different sector of business and industry. This showcases unsung, trailblazing women in history who used maths, blog posts from women working in each sector, career insights, and suggested links between the key stage 3 maths curriculum, the sector, and the Global Goals.
To find out more about Maths4Girls, you can watch our new short video for educators here. For further reading, and to book your Maths4Girls event, head over to our website https://m4g.founders4schools.org.uk/ and follow us on Twitter @maths4girlsuk.
For further information contact firstname.lastname@example.org