By Emily Seeber, Head of Sciences
The issues surrounding gender diversity in the sciences are well known. Only 1.9% of girls continue with Physics to A-level compared to 6.5% of boys, and girls have outnumbered boys 2:1 in Biology for the last decade. On the other hand, nationally, Chemistry attracts equal numbers of male and female students at A-level. However, this does not mean there is no gender imbalance in Chemistry teaching: girls tend to say they are studying Chemistry because it will help them get into a top university, or because they want to study medicine, and boys tend to respond that they just enjoy the subject. Both perspectives need challenging: why aren’t girls studying what they love, and why aren’t boys focused on their futures?
I am a firm believer in gender-neutral laboratory practice and am beginning to work on how that might look in sciences through a long-term research project. Even in a single sex school, a class of students will identify their gender in a whole spectrum of ways, and so science lessons shouldn’t be tailored to the learning preferences of one binary gender. This Wednesday I was invited to speak about issues of inclusivity in sciences education at the Inspiring Teachers conference at the Institute of Education in London, with other panellists from the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Physics and the Department for Education. We had a lively discussion about some of the key underlying issues that need unpicking in schools surrounding gender, race, and class.
Fortunately, Bedales does many of these things already: we call out sexist and racist language, we discuss diversity and inclusivity openly (I spoke to the Block 3 in Wellbeing last week about the different faces of the Feminist movement in Britain today) and the students are fully engaged in the dialogue, and we have moved away from setting in sciences (strongly correlated with divisiveness in all three areas). There are still big challenges ahead for equality, but I hope that by raising awareness of the issues with Heads of Science from all over the country, we have been able to plant some seeds for change.
Find more of Emily’s thoughts on gender issues in science education on her blog: