Encouraging Girls to Take Mathematics
The number of girls studying mathematics has continued to rise in recent years, with over 37,000 girls in the UK completing a course in A-level Mathematics in summer 2017, of which around 4,400 also completed A Level Further Mathematics. At AS level, there were around 63,000 entries for Mathematics from girls, with over 8,000 also taking AS Further Mathematics.
Whilst the numbers of girls participating in Mathematics and Further Mathematics in the UK has grown substantially in recent years, the proportion of A level Mathematics students that are girls is 39% and for A level Further Mathematics the figure is 27%.
Universities and employers are keen to recruit even more female students into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects and also to a wide range of other degree courses and careers requiring quantitative skills, such as Psychology, Social Sciences, Economics and Geography.
The breadth of the applicability of mathematics is enormous, and for a large number of degree courses an A level in Mathematics is an essential or desirable qualification. The study of Mathematics offers opportunities for creativity, team-working and communication, and for many careers it is the ability to explain complicated concepts clearly to a non-mathematical audience that is in demand.
The FMSP believes that it is important to alert girls and their parents to the wide range of skills developed through the study of mathematics and the utility of the subject across a wide range of careers.
In May 2014, in a speech at Imperial College, the then Education Minister Elizabeth Truss challenged the relatively low take-up of mathematical subjects post-16, in relation to other countries internationally. She announced amendments to the school and college performance tables in which data relating to girls’ and boys’ participation in mathematical and scientific subjects at A level is now to be published annually. The 2014/15 data revealed that, for state school students who had chosen to do A levels, 37.2% of boys chose to do Mathematics, compared to only 18.1% of girls; for Further Mathematics the figures were 7.0% and 1.9% respectively.
Individual school and college data and regional variations for the 2012-13 academic year, 2013-14 academic year, 2014-15 academic year and 2015-16 academic year are accessible via the Maths and Science tables on the DfE website.
The disparity in participation rates in mathematics and science post-16 has initiated the Your Life campaign. A growing number of organisations have pledged to take practical steps to ensure more students participate in mathematics, physics, engineering and technological study and enter careers in these fields.
In Spring 2016, the FMSP published Girls' Participation in A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics, a briefing document for school leaders, heads of mathematics departments, school governors and other interested stakeholders. It summarises:
- the national strategies in place to promote the study of mathematics post-16;
- the DfE’s recently published 2014/15 participation data for boys and girls in A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics;
- the findings of the FMSP’s Gender Literature Review, carried out on behalf of the FMSP by colleagues at the UCL Institute of Education (IoE);
- strategies that senior leaders and heads of mathematics departments could employ to promote greater gender balance in participation in A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics.
A more detailed summary of the recommendations arising from the FMSP literature review outlines a range of practical strategies that schools can employ to promote gender balance in the study of mathematics post-16. You can also read more about the wider research carried out by the UCL IOE in conjunction with the FMSP.
Commencing in the autumn term 2014, the UCL IOE conducted five case studies on behalf of the FMSP, to identify and disseminate good practice in schools and colleges where gender participation is more balanced. The final report Gender Case Studies summarises the findings of this research. Case study posters for Beauchamp College, The Manchester College and Shenley Brook End Academy provide useful summaries of some of the key findings.
Also, look out for events in your area that aim to promote post-16 participation in mathematics generally, and especially to girls. For example, in February 2015 the Royal Institution and the FMSP held a Celebrating Women in Mathematics event, which was attended by 300 students (both male and female) from schools across London. The range of fantastic speakers included Naomi Ball (British Airways), Dr Hannah Fry and Dr Helen Wilson (UCL) and special surprise guest Rachel Riley.
The FMSP are keen to identify opportunities where the mathematics occuring within other subjects can be demonstrated to students. Research indicates that girls are more likely than boys to take A level Mathematics alongside non-STEM A level subjects and so identifying the mathematics that occurs within Business Studies, Psychology, Geography and other fields is important.
This Decision Trees Teacher Guide provides a step-by-step plan and associated resources for use with Key Stage 4 students and may particularly appeal to girls. The activities are designed to show how mathematical techniques can be used to make business and other decisions. There is an accompanying Decision Trees PowerPoint and Decision trees handout (with solutions).
Key Stage 4 Extension lessons
This series of five lessons is designed to give students an insight into the sorts of topics they might meet at A level, such as logarithms and binomial expansions. Research suggests that girls in particular appreciate the opportunity to try out A level material before committing themselves to A level study. These lessons are designed to be challenging, and apply the mathematics covered to a variety of careers. There is an associated series of PowerPoint presentations and all exercises are accompanied by full worked solutions.
Promoting Mathematics Presentation
It is common for parents and carers to inquire at school and college Open Days about A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics qualifications. The FMSP has produced a Why study mathematics sixth form open evening presentation for teachers to use at open evenings and promotional events. There is a set of accompanying notes for the presentation with background data to assist the presenter.
Other Guidance for Parents
The FMSP has produced a handout with Information for Students and Parents explaining why mathematics is important.
The National Careers Service have produced the guide Your Daughter's Future which provides a range of support for parents in guiding their daughters when making careers choices. 'Going Your Own Way' is a section which challenges myths around gendered occupations and 'Exploring Possible Pathways' advises careful review of university entry requirements, noting for example that for some Psychology degrees, Mathematics A level is a preferred entry qualification over Psychology A level.
- The Institute of Physics (IoP) 2013 Closing Doors report investigated progression to A level in Mathematics, Physics, Economics, English, Psychology, Biology and Economics. The report recommends that school leaders reflect on their own statistical data relating to progression and gender and put in place whole school measures to counter gender-stereotyping.
- 2014 saw the first female winner of the Fields Medal for outstanding achievement in mathematics. Maryam Mirzakhani was recognised for work in the field of complex geometry.
- The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study on gender and the learning of mathematics was published in 2014. It calls on educators and parents to make a concerted effort to challenge and eliminate gender stereotypes and bolster girls’ self- belief.
- A facebook page about Women in Maths has been launched and already has nearly 7000 followers.
- A set of Women in Maths careers videos produced by the University of Nottingham feature women discussing their work in mathematics and how it relates to other subjects such as Biology. They also talk about what other career options they had when they were younger and why they are glad they chose mathematics.
- Good Housekeeping magazine published a campaign to encourage girls to study mathematics. Three leading advertising agencies were asked to produce an advert that would make girls think differently about maths. See the October 2014 edition for full details – which advert do your female students prefer?
- Director of ‘Maths Inspiration’ Rob Eastaway uses his blog to discuss interesting findings from a practical experiment with upper primary boys and girls relating to classroom preferences for mathematical activity. Do the same preferences apply in sixth form mathematics classrooms?