Girls deterred from science in co-ed schools, says head of all-female Bath school
The head of an all-female Bath school says girls can be put off studying science when being taught alongside boys.
New figures have revealed that almost half of all co-educational state schools do not have a single girl studying physics at A level.
Royal High School head teacher Rebecca Dougall said the statistic uncovered by the Institute of Physics (IOP) was "shocking but not surprising".
Mrs Dougall, whose school is in the independent sector, said teenage girls in mixed schools often faced pressure from their friends to study more conventionally "feminine" subjects such as the arts.
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"For a girl to choose physics in a co-ed school is often viewed as a brave choice or a risky move. Teenage girls – and boys for that matter – are often desperate to fit in with their peer group, and can be concerned at the prospect of doing anything that might make them stand out from the crowd, which makes a girl studying a subject which some might view as unfeminine much more of a social risk.
"The key ages for this sort of self-consciousness are the years from 13 to 16, just when pupils are choosing which subjects they want to take for their GCSEs and A levels."
She said there was less stereotyping in girls' schools, adding: "When there are only other girls in the classroom, every subject from art and drama to physics and further maths is naturally a girls' subject."
She said studies had shown that women who went to girls' schools were more likely to study stereotypically male subjects, such as maths, physics and chemistry, both at school and at university.
Around half the students in the sixth forms of schools run by the Royal High's parent body the Girls' Day School Trust (GDST) take at least one science A level, and more than 40 per cent of them study science, medicine or maths as part of their degrees.
Last year, while physics was the fourth most popular subject for A levels for boys in England, it was at 19th position for girls.
IOP president Professor Sir Peter Knight says many girls are not receiving the education they are "entitled to".
He said: "The English teacher who looks askance at the girl who takes an interest in physics or the lack of female physicists on television, for example, can play a part in forming girls' perception of the subject.
"We need to ensure that we are not unfairly prejudicing girls against a subject that they could hugely benefit from engaging with."