Science free from stereotypes, where girls are confident and aim high.
At Queen’s we are very proud of our girls' success in all three sciences and that over half of our pupils take a STEM subject as an A-level.
Each science is taught as a separate subject in Years 7-11 by specialist teachers in dedicated subject-specific laboratories. A range of resources and activities are used to support the pupils' learning.
The confidence and interest our girls show is undoubtedly linked to the environment in which they learn. We interviewed Head of Physics and Acting Head of Science Jack Sheldrake who talks about the tangible benefits of learning in a single sex independent school.
Q. As someone who has taught in a co-educational school, what would you say are the main differences between co-ed and single sex education when it comes to Science?
“When I first began working in a single sex environment, the first thing I noticed was the level of enthusiasm the girls demonstrated in science. I had never experienced this level of enthusiasm in any of the co-educational settings I had previously worked in. The girls enjoy learning and they know that they can achieve in what is all too often considered to be a male dominated environment.”
Q. Why do you think the girls seem to do better in this environment?
“As a physics teacher in a co-educational setting, a typical class of 16 A-level students would only have one or two girls. Boys would try to dominate the learning environment and frequently celebrate academic male achievements in sciences such as the work of Richard Feynman, Albert Einstein or even Brian Cox.
In an all-female environment, everyone in the class is female and so it does not appear strange to opt to do physics. Boys do not dominate in lessons and the huge successes of women in STEM subjects is consistently celebrated. Girls genuinely appear engrossed in the subject and content in a single sex environment without feeling the need to convey a false impression to those around them.”
Q. Do you think girls are well represented in science courses at university and if not why not?
“I believe that girls are underrepresented in science courses at university although this depends greatly on the branch of science. For example, there are more girls taking A-level biology than boys nationally. A-level chemistry is almost equal, maths has far more boys at A-level and the worst performer is physics with just under 80% of all A-level students being male. There is clearly an imbalance at school, however this picture worsens at university when boys seem more likely to pursue science subjects despite girls achieving exceptionally well at A-level. I believe the reason is cultural and has a detrimental impact on our society.”
Q. What do you think needs to be done within school science teaching and the industries that come from that to encourage more able girls to take these subjects?
“These industries are suffering as they do not have access to the large talent pool in the UK. Girls are not opting for science subjects as frequently as they might at university as they pursue alternative careers. This diminishes the available pool of talent in which some female students might have thrived and made breakthroughs which we will never know of. Scientific research has the potential to change economies, climates and the health of nations, it is important that we have the best minds working on the most complex problems, regardless of their sex.”
Q. The take up of science appears to be much stronger in girls’ independent schools than schools nationally with many leavers going on to choose a university course in engineering, math or science – why do you think that is?
“The girls are free to outwardly display their enthusiasm and inquisitive mindsets without the fear of male students judging them. They do not develop the same artificial stereotypes about the types of students who opt for particular subjects as they are all girls. The guest speakers, the teaching techniques deployed and the course content is steered to ensure that it caters exclusively for the needs of female students and so makes the learning as relevant as possible.”
Q. What does Queen’s offer when it comes to Science and what makes the school unique?
“We offer an individual and carefully tailored approach to learning, facilitated by small class sizes, which enables teachers to know the girls and understand how they are progressing in their learning. At Queen’s, we nurture the students to reach their academic potential whilst ever mindful of the pressures on young girls and the challenges they face. We try to consider the needs of the girls holistically to ensure that pastoral and academic issues are addressed so they can thrive in this positive, caring and academic environment.”
Q. Our girls are actively encouraged to tackle harder subjects and to be confident that they can do well in them and that clearly has an impact with half of them taking a STEM subject as an A-level, what benefits does that give them when they move on to university and employment?
“I believe that STEM subjects develop a particular skill set and that they are ‘facilitating’ A-levels. Even if a student does not decide to study science or maths at university, A-levels in STEM subjects convey a specific set of problem solving skills which might not be assessed in the same manner in other subjects. We want our students to know that nothing is beyond them and we actively encourage the girls to participate in challenging environments in which we know they will succeed.
At university or in employment, the problem solving skills developed in the girls, combined with their knowledge that they can succeed in any arena based on their experiences, makes them confident, proactive, competent and articulate contributors in any working or learning environment.”