How many girls do A-Level Maths?

How many girls are in your A-Level classroom? There are a lot of high-profile campaigns to encourage more women to work in STEM related careers, but many such careers start way back in the classroom. An A-Level in mathematics is often the gateway to a STEM degree, which can then become the gateway to a STEM career and so on. As a new teacher you may already be starting to think about the gender balance in your A-Level classroom, and crucially – is there anything you can do about it? You might not be a Head of Mathematics or a Senior Leader (yet), but you can still make a big impact from the moment you start your teacher training.

Women in Maths Image

Past experiences shape our ideas

Our ideas as new teachers are often shaped by our past experiences – perhaps you were in a Further Maths class with only one female student and feel there is a big gender imbalance in mathematics. On the other hand, some of us may have looked around our lecture theatres at university and seen a fairly balanced picture, depending on where we studied. (It would be hard however not to notice the huge lack of female maths lecturers and professors.)

Whatever our past experiences, times can change rapidly and there will always be local differences on the ground which can hide the bigger picture of what is going on. As well as this, many Maths Scholars took A-Level Maths a long time ago, so may understandably feel out of touch with the choices their students are making.

Why should teachers be interested in the gender balance in the classroom?

If there is a significant gender imbalance in your A-Level Maths classroom then there are going to be talented girls out there who could have enjoyed taking the subject further. These girls are being locked out of the many benefits of studying for a Level 3 qualification in Maths, including an excellent choice of well-paid and interesting careers. (Level 3 qualifications in maths include A-Level Maths, Further Maths and Core Maths.)

For girls who plan to study subjects such as Science, Geography or Psychology at university, taking an A-Level in Maths or Core Maths will benefit them significantly. A post-16 maths qualification could help them when it comes to admissions, and they will also be in a much stronger position in terms of subject knowledge when they begin their degree.
Studying Further Maths A-Level opens additional doors for students. Not many degrees list it as an essential entry requirement, but in practice there are lots of subjects such as Maths and Engineering where it is highly valued and, in many cases, beneficial for admissions. The picture is complex, but studying Further Maths will give the best grounding for students who pursue a degree which has a large mathematical content. A lower proportion of girls studying Further Mathematics means there are girls who are missing out.

What can I do as a teacher?

There are a lot of things you can do to positively impact girl’s participation, many of which don’t take much time. 

Step 1: Get the facts

As a teacher it is important to understand what the trends are nationally, locally and also in your school. You need to know where you are at before you can decide what to do. Fortunately, the Advanced Maths Support Programme (AMSP) have got a whole page dedicated to Girl’s Participation in A-Level Maths, including a handy fact sheet for teachers.  This data is updated fairly regularly, so it is worth checking in with this resource every now and then to see how things are changing. One of the biggest surprises is that there are big regional differences in girl’s participation, which is why it is important that every teacher takes some time to think about what is going on in their local area.

Step 2: Consider the research

Once you know about the gender imbalance, the next thing is to start digging into the reasons why. The AMSP resources give access to up to date educational research which highlight some of the potential drivers behind girl’s participation.

Step 3: Implement strategies to improve girl’s participation

The AMSP resources give some straightforward strategies to help improve girl’s participation, many of which can be used easily by any classroom teacher. Check out the fact sheet to find out more. A strategy can be as simple as avoiding painting maths as ‘elitist’ when we talk to students, or it could involve the senior leadership changing the whole school culture surrounding girls’ aspirations.

Step 4: Monitor the impact

There is a lot to monitor and think about such as analysing the proportion of girls and boys with different grades in GCSE Mathematics who go on to study a Level 3 Maths qualification. This type of analysis could be done by the head of a maths department; however, it could also be a stand-alone project for a classroom teacher who can then report back to the rest of the department.

You can also enjoy seeing the girls you teach increase in confidence and enjoyment of mathematics as you implement these strategies. Sometimes you may be lucky enough to have a pupil where you can see clearly that they chose an A-Level in maths based on what you have done.

Resources that every Mathematics Teaching Scholar should read.

So – how many girls do A-Level maths? Hopefully you are now intrigued, but we would prefer to direct you to the AMSP pages on girl’s participation and the associated fact sheet, particularly because they break down these statistics by region and also compare Maths, Further Maths and Core Maths.  These resources are evidence based and important for every mathematics teacher, regardless of whether they are a new teacher or Head of Department. They only take 10 minutes to read, but will hopefully result in many years of changed practice.

AMSP Resources on Girl’s Participation

Check out the resources on the AMSP website here.

By Hazel Lewis