More than half of British girls do not feel confident learning maths while two-fifths feel insecure about science, according to a report which highlights an “alarming” gender confidence gap in schools.
Research by the education charity Teach First found that 54% of girls lacked confidence in maths, compared with 41% of boys, but the gap was even wider in science, where 43% of girls lacked confidence compared with 26% of boys.
The findings were based on the results of a YouGov poll of 1,000 young people aged 11 to 16 ahead of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on Sunday.
Despite feeling less confident, girls often outperform boys in Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects at GCSE, with a higher percentage achieving top grades – though fewer girls then take these subjects at A-level and go on into Stem careers.
The results have prompted warnings that poor gender diversity will exacerbate the skills shortage currently facing the Stem sector, and Teach First is calling for more high-quality, specialist teachers to help inspire the next generation into these fields.
In 2020, women made up less than 30% of the UK Stem workforce, while the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has warned of a shortfall of more than 173,000 workers – the equivalent of 10 unfilled roles per business, on average.
Teach First, which trains high-quality graduates to teach in schools in challenging areas, is calling for an increase in pay for trainee teachers to incentivise Stem professionals into teaching in order to alleviate some of the shortages. Many schools are struggling to recruit teachers, particularly for maths, computing and physics.
Teach First’s chief impact officer, Amy Mitchell, said: “It’s deeply troubling that too few children feel confident studying science and maths, with too many girls in particular left behind.
“Girls are just as capable as boys when it comes to maths and science, but this confidence gap poses a huge threat to the UK’s future, with Stem skills desperately needed to boost economic growth and to help tackle the major problems we face such as climate change.”
She said an uplift in pay for trainee teachers was needed urgently to incentivise more people to become Stem teachers, particularly in low-income areas where it is even harder to recruit specialist teachers.
Sylvia Jolly, a Teach First-trained science teacher at Robert Clack school in Dagenham, Essex, said: “Empowering more girls to take up Stem and shine in the field will significantly benefit all Stem scientists. It will ensure that the workforce is empowered to work together.”
A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said bursaries worth up to £30,000 were offered to attract the brightest and best Stem teachers.
“We are continuing to promote Stem subjects and drive up participation, especially among girls,” they said.
“This includes investing £100m to improve computing teaching and participation at GCSE and A-level, alongside targeted initiatives to boost uptake of maths, physics, digital and technical education by girls and among under-represented groups.
“On top of this, we’re introducing the new Advanced British Standard (ABS) which will see every student in England study some form of maths and English to age 18.”