Written by Alyssa Walker

In the UK, girls who earn top marks in GCSE science and math often do not pursue those subjects at higher levels, according to a new study published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS)

Why? A missing peer group and lack of confidence, for the most part. The IFS suggests that only a dramatic intervention to encourage girls to study STEM subjects will change the trajectory. 

The IFS study found that while girls have long outperformed boys STEM subjects at the GCSE level, fewer take STEM subjects at the higher A-level standard, and even fewer continue into STEM subjects in higher education. 

The IFS researchers interviewed roughly 300 girls in 40 schools who were predicted to earn at least an A in math, physics or combined science at GCSE.

The study offered those girls financial scholarships if they would study physics or math A-levels, but the incentive did not work.

According to The Guardian, the research found, "A substantial proportion of the girls responding to the questionnaire felt that no amount of money could induce them to study maths or physics. These girls suggested that talks from female role models in Stem, Stem work experience and interventions to build girls’ confidence in maths and physics could be more effective in encouraging them to study maths and physics.”

So what's to be done?

According to Sarah Main, executive director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), the results reflect a need for more analysis. According to The Guardian, she said “It’s great that we are getting a light shone on this problem but honestly my heart sinks when I read this research. These are very talented girls, doing very well at maths and science, and they still think they’ll struggle doing physics.”

The main issues that the government should address? Confidence and isolation. 

Learn more about studying in the UK. 


Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.
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