An exploration of female interest and attitudes towards studying Mathematics.

The issue of female students choosing Mathematics at A level has been a subject of debate for some time. Despite GCSE results being relatively equal between boys and girls, the number of girls choosing Maths at A level remains disproportionately low. The work of Gates (2001) suggests that females lack confidence when choosing Mathematics due to an historical lack of equality in British society. This reluctance by female students to opt for Maths is further supported in the 2015 OECD report which outlines the lack of confidence reported by female students in approaching Maths as a subject option.

This research was conducted in a secondary school Mathematics department with Year 11 pupils. Five female students were selected to participate in semi-structured interviews regarding their perceptions of gender within Mathematics and their experiences of the subject.  A questionnaire for teaching staff was conducted to examine teachers’ attitudes regarding gender within mathematics, and how they employed specific teaching techniques to engage all pupils. Current Mathematics GCSE grades within the school were examined to identify if the opinions of students and teachers correlated with GCSE results.

The themes which emerged from the findings highlighted:

Parity of performance in GCSE results.

Fewer female students chose Maths at A level citing societal influence as a major factor.

Female students’ confidence in Maths was also determined by other people’s perceptions of their ability.

Organisational strategies in schools were also discovered as potential deterrents for female students choosing Mathematics at A level.

No coherent strategy to encourage female choice of Maths at A level.

Key words:  Mathematics, equality,  societal influence, female subject perceptions

Olivia Naylor
University of Chester