Girls in physics: dilemmas and tensions

Whitelegg, Elizabeth; Murphy, Patricia and Hart, Christina (2007). Girls in physics: dilemmas and tensions. In: Pintó, Roser and Couso, Digna eds. Contributions from Science Education Research. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 27–32.



This paper reports on some of the findings from a review of research commissioned by the Institute of Physics into the participation of girls in physics. The review was commissioned in response to concern about the continuing decline in the numbers of girls studying physics post-16 in England. The review includes 177 sources of national and international research liteature on the participation of girls in science and in physics and is a narrative review covering 161 pages. The review findings reveal a complex picture of the reasons for girls continuing decline in participation related to their lack of meaningful access to physics which is constrained by a complex web of interactions in girls' curriculum and assessment experience. When this is combined with perceptions of the representation of physics it results in a reduction in girls' self-efficacy and self-concept in the subject as they progress through schooling. The review recommends that purposes for studying physics need to be made explicit for girls in particular, and that this should happen within their curriculum experience rather than outside it. Relevance of the subject to girls' lives outside the classroom is as important as prior knowledge so curriculum interventions and teachers should take this into account. Staff development is needed to help teachers develop strategies to increase the participation of girls and this is particularly important where single sex teaching is used. Long term evaluation of different approaches, further research into the difficulty of physics and access to achievement data is needed

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