Girls’ Schools and STEM: a Creative Chemistry

Girls’ Schools and STEM: a Creative Chemistry

Girls’ Schools and STEM: a Creative Chemistry

The figures for the engagement of women in careers in Science and Technology are stark. Research published earlier this year revealed that women make up only 14.4% of those engaged in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers in the UK.

It is tempting to see this as an historic problem which will be solved over time by changing attitudes to technology amongst young people but a recent Accenture survey found that only 5% of girls over the age of 11 hope to study computer science at university, compared with 27% of boys.

Girls’ schools are at the forefront of changing perceptions about girls and STEM subjects. My own school, Bromley High School GDST, has just received the Education Business Award for the Best Provision for STEM subjects in the UK. Typically for a girls’ only Sixth Form, Mathematics is the most popular A level subject and Science and Computing are just as popular as Arts subjects. In a girls’ school, there is no such thing as a boys’ subject: only enthusiasm, ability and future ambitions count.

Girls’ schools are aware of the centuries of societal influences which make it more difficult for little girls to perceive themselves as potential Scientists and Engineers. A worrying study has reported that five-year-old girls are just as likely to say that girls can be “really, really smart” but from six years up they think brilliance is much more likely in boys. Therefore girls’ schools take every opportunity to present pioneering female scientific heroines of the past, like Jocelyn Bell and Rosalind Franklin, as models of female intellectual brilliance. The high take up of scientific subjects in girls’ schools creates a huge pool of more accessible role models in alumnae who are keen to inspire girls following them on the pathway to careers in STEM.

Schools need to find opportunities for young women to explore the ways in which technology can open up careers where they can express their creativity and have a positive impact on the world. That combination of social worth and creativity was evident in our Year 10 girls’ innovative idea for echo-locating earrings which would enable blind people to locate their position within a room which won the UK Teen Tech Wearable Technology Award.

Studying STEM subjects should be inspirational and enabling. Positive attitudes at home and at school need to be developed very early in the educational process. Parents who reassure a child struggling with a tricky maths problem, that they too were ‘rubbish at Maths’ can be an unwitting source of discouragement. We are all drawn to pursue activities where we believe that we can excel. Therefore STEM subjects are approached with a positive growth mindset. Girls are taught not to falter in the face of difficulty and say ‘ I can’t do it’ but to relish wrestling with the challenge and say ‘I can’t do it yet.’

Angela Drew, Headmistress,
Bromley High School

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