An organisation called WISE inspires girls and women to study and build careers using science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). They have an aim of getting 1 million more women to work in these areas. At Nottingham High School we have a long tradition of excellence in these STEM subjects and so in planning for our move to co-education we were incredibly keen that the girls we recruited were encouraged to study these subjects. It is often said by those that support single sex education for girls that girls are more likely to study Sciences in single-sex schools. Such figures though have their limitations. In constructing them what is being compared is the number of girls studying science in single-sex independent schools with those girls studying science in all schools, state and maintained. A fairer test would be to compare the numbers of girls studying science in co-educational independent schools with single-sex independent schools. Here I would contend there would be a very different picture.
Last summer we recruited 41 girls into our Sixth Form. 46% of our new female students are studying Maths and at least one other science. This bears favourable comparison with single-sex girls schools across our region. 63% of our girls are studying at least one science; 61% of them are studying Maths and a total of 78% are doing Maths or at least one Science subject. We have 17% of our girls studying Further Maths – again a figure that few single-sex schools can challenge. 22% of girls are studying Physics. We are very proud of these figures and if you are considering where to study in the Sixth Form do look at each school’s published results for previous years so that you can work out the relevant statistics for yourselves. Just take the number studying any one subject and divide by the total number of students to work out your own school’s figures. What is also very interesting is that across almost all of our most popular subjects the percentages of girls and boys opting for each one is very similar – in other words there does not seem to be any great gender bias in how our students are selecting their subjects.
Key to our philosophy of becoming a co-educational school is our desire to become the strongest academic school in the region. For us to do this we have to be strong in all subjects and the Science subjects have always been a key strength here at the High School. We strongly believe that many girls are joining us because we are so strong in many of our subjects including the Sciences. I am already aware that a good number of our girls are hoping to study Medicine at university. Again our success in preparing students to read Medicine is good – 23 have gained places across the past two years, again this is often a figure that can be gleaned from school websites or lists of leavers’ destinations by way of comparison. It is right that at NHS we have a strong record of getting students in to work in the NHS!
We believe passionately like WISE that girls should be encouraged to take up careers in the important areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. The number studying Further Maths in any school can often be seen as a sign of how strong the school is academically – we have 2 sets of students across Year12 doing this subject (24 students in total).
Thus, please do not believe the lazy stereotypes that suggest that girls will be put off studying Science and Maths in co-educational schools. Strong academic schools will work hard to ensure that both boys and girls pursue careers in these areas and the fact that both genders are studying alongside each other will make it so much easier for them both to move into real world situations once they leave school. We have a number of strong female role models teaching Science in our school. We are confident that girls who study Science with us will be well-prepared to embark on scientific careers and that by studying alongside so many others studying such subjects they will be stretched to achieve. Girls who join us will be given the confidence and encouragement to seriously consider these careers areas. Through Futurewise we undertake career profiling with all of our students so that we can guide them towards potential career areas where they will thrive and such guidance is not defined by gender. This focus on each individual allows us to show each student what they might achieve and encourages them to think beyond any lazy stereotyping.
In conclusion, we believe that co-education opens doors rather than closes them, it allows students to confront stereotypes and enables us to both identify potential and then deliver on it. Great schools are defined not by the gender of their students though but by the quality of their teaching and their results. We have a proud record in delivering excellence and it is this we want to build on in the future. We believe in the goals of WISE and are certainly doing our part in supporting girls into scientific careers.