What we’ve learned about girls and STEM this summer
Earlier this summer, my team spoke to a group of Year 11 girls at King’s Maths School’s ‘Girls like Maths (and Physics!)’ Summer School about what encouraged them to pursue maths.
When asked about why they signed up to the camp, girls explained how they were looking for a supportive community of girls with similar experiences and interests:
“There’s only a few Black girls in my maths class so I wanted to be with other women of colour” – Girl, Year 11.
Is there someone who has encouraged you to pursue maths?
Almost all girls in the group talked about a specific teacher whom they had trusted. Often this was a female maths teacher but sometimes a science teacher. They spoke about how these teachers encouraged them directly to apply to the summer camp. Some girls talked about the influence of their parents. For example, one girl said her parents are in STEM and have always encouraged her to pursue a similar career path. Another spoke about the time and effort her parents have put in to help her with maths.
They all talked about how going to the programme had increased their confidence throughout the week.
Things you liked or didn’t like about maths lessons?
Almost all girls agreed that maths classes seemed very competitive and sometimes they didn’t like this aspect of the lessons. Several girls talked about how they were compared to other people in the class, older siblings and friends.
“Everyone knows who is the best, it impacts your mental health” – Girl, Year 11.
What’s been your experience of careers guidance at your school?
Girls were not always positive about their experiences of careers guidance. One girl mentioned that she had only had one careers day.
Girls wanted more programmes like the summer school, and more role models in STEM. For example, girls wanted more opportunities to hear from women in STEM careers about their experiences.
What’s one thing schools or government could change to increase the take-up of girls in STEM?
Girls had great ideas about how to encourage more women into STEM careers. This included more information about what career paths were available and understanding the wider range of careers that involve stem subjects.
“Breaking [STEM career paths] down, making it seem doable” – Girl, Year 11.
They wanted more opportunities to have conversations about women’s actual experiences in STEM, where women could be open about what their experiences in STEM are like and actions to address the stigma of girls going into STEM careers.
The group mentioned the need to ensure girls from working class backgrounds were supported to go into careers in STEM and that outreach programmes needed to be more accessible to all students, with more spaces like the summer school made available to girls.
The Children’s Commissioner will continue to work to promote opportunities for girls to move into STEM careers.
King’s Maths School will be running other outreach programmes in the future. You can find out more here: https://www.kingsmathsschool.com/activity/outreach