Encouraging female students to take STEM subjects at A level


I’m Steph and I’m a Sixth Form student who plans to pursue a career in engineering.


As the only (out of about 40 students total) female physics or further maths student in my Sixth Form, I am keen to encourage more GCSE students to take science subjects at A level. Speaking to some of them, a lot of them do not believe they are intelligent enough, even the top students in the class.

I am currently volunteering to help out with science lessons once a week but want to do more.

Does anyone have any ideas about how to encourage more students (particularly female students) to take science subjects at A level?

Thanks for any suggestions!
  • By the way, Steph

    Thank you for thinking more widely than yourself.

    The mindset that you have that sees a problem and seeks to fix it is exactly the attitude that is needed today.

    I wish you good luck in your studies at school and in your efforts to promote engineering to those around you

    Peter M
  • Hi Steph,

    I went to an all girls school 20 years ago, and I know what you mean! There were two classes of 15 for Biology and Chemistry each, but only 1 class of 9 for Physics. There were 2 for further maths and about 15 for maths.

    What helped me engage with STEM subjects were:

    - Careers advice in Year 9 - I knew I was going to be techy in one way or another from a questionnaire.

    - Decent school trips - when I was small, we went to a very excellent Science Museum (MOSI).

    - An appreciation of what someone can do with Maths and Physics - Only two people chose Physics purely for interest. The rest wanted to be doctors or engineers. (Interestingly, not astronauts...) If people (young and old) knew what Maths and Physics allowed you to do, then it would help relate the subject to the outside world.

    - Having science books in the library. Prof. Brian Cox is an example - he explains things nicely and writes a decent book. There must be others. I am currently reading 'Built' by Roma Agrawal. It reads like an autobiography rather than a textbook.

    - Having teachers who know what they are talking about! Ok you can't fix that, but it does help if the teacher cares about the subject. Sometimes, they may point you to another source for further learning.

    - University taster days - sometimes they are extended to year 11s. These give a day in the life of a STEM University student. I think Bristol Uni does these for year 12s...

    - School clubs. Could a lego class be started? Or a Raspberry Pi group? I remember there being science clubs, with BAYS or CREST. Not sure if they are still around. There are so many tutorials online nowadays, like Scratch for computer programming. It could be self-run, if teachers aren't feeling confident.

    - Work experience - I don't know if it is a thing to have school-organised work experience any more. If there is, then you could suggest the option.

    - WISE, EDT Headstart and such are helpful. The IET have a resources page for teachers for different key stages.

    - Career day chats. I actually did a career day talk to some GCSE students and they loved it. I think I may have persuaded some to think about Maths. At least, they didn't fall asleep! Ask a local company to send someone. (National Grid for example - shameless plug!). Usually, you will get a response.

    Yes, several of these ideas involve getting teacher help. Don't let that put you off, though. If you can persuade one teacher to help you implement only one of these, not only will it benefit the younger students, but it will look amazing on your CV or university personal statement. 

    Good luck with your studies and your ambitions!
  • You are making an accusation of social engineering...but it is clearly already socially engineered. That’s why we are in this unbalanced situation.
  • I am a STEM ambassador. I’m uncomfortable

    about encouraging girls into STEM careers without mentioning the negatives. I believe it is correct to give a fair representation. 

    An informed choice is better.
  • I think if you need that much help to “engage in STEM subjects” then maybe it isn’t for you.  In my book you’re either interested or you’re not.  Social engineering is divisive and discriminatory.
  • I find it difficult to agree, Rob. Interest in any subject can be like a fragile flower in its early days. I can think back to my childhood to times when I saw something which briefly fascinated me only to have some small obstacle prevent further development of that interest. Admittedly, some I picked up later in adult life, but generally as a hobby rather than achieving professional standard.

    It can be the small things which determine a career choice. I'd suggest you don't need to worry about big scale social engineering, just give each child an opportunity to try out a possible path to their future. It can work both ways: when I was a child it was very rare for a boy to go into nursing, for instance.

    To Steph, I wish you success in your studies and your career choice. Your success, whether great or small, will be another step on the stairway to providing equal opportunities to girls and boys in the future.
  • Joan, I agree with your post totally, however, that’s not what is happening in reality.  There is an deeply establish agenda of positive discrimination and social engineering going on within the Engineering Council and the IET and it cannot be denied.  I am sure everyone means well but when you positively discriminate for one group you discriminate against another group and that is just not right.  In terms of social engineering, by the very fact it cannot be seen to fail then standards are most likely to be compromised for the benefit or the individual and the agenda and to the detriment of the profession and the individual.
  • Hi Rob

    We agree in some senses. Positive discrimination can be unfairness by a different measure. I suspect very few want to be the token woman, man, 'person of colour', wheelchair user or whatever in any environment, but surely people do deserve the chance to shine or at least to earn a decent living from in inteersting and challenging profession.

    I was impressed with the words of Lewis Hamilton on the Today programme this morning: "You want people to earn the position, no-one wants to be handed it, we don't want to create a position where we force these teams to hire minorities for the sake of filling a space. We want to create an opportunity for those individuals so they are educated and have earned the right. I want to find out what the real problem is first so we can fix it efficiently. I'm working with the Royal Academy of Engineering [and others] trying to understand why there is a lack of young black kids applying to STEM subjects; what are the barriers."

    It may take generations, but that is no reason not to continue the work that's been started  - we need to educate the teachers and the mums (and grans) that it is OK for a girl to be interested in maths, science and engineering. Yes, the next generation of young women may face negative aspects of office life, as many of us doubtless have, so perhaps the education should include preparing them to handle that.

    Of course the OP of this thread was a young STEM student asking how she could encourage other young women into her favourite subject.  I'd suggest exuding enthusiasm (but not so much as to be off-putting) about what she knows and is learning.

  • We’ve achieved that goal many years ago, there are no real barriers anymore.
  • I think we have answered the original question for Steph and this forum should stop.  If it is wished that it continues, may I suggest that you open another forum and call it 'Positive Discrimination and Employment Law'.  I can not believe some of the drivel that is being posted and what do people think looking at our site: professional!!!