Broadening the UK curriculum to keep younger people’s subject options open may help increase the amount of female engineers.
EngineeringUK’s report, which investigated why the UK had the lowest proportion of female engineers across the EU, found that girls effectively ruled themselves out of a degree in engineering by the age of 14.
The study compared the education systems in the UK, Ireland, Italy and Sweden to examine why the UK had the lowest proportion of female engineers – a finding made by the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology, after analysing the European Labour Force Survey.
EngineeringUK’s report recommended that the number of compulsory subjects between the ages of 14 and 18 be broadened to include mathematics and physics (the two pre-requisite subjects needed to study engineering in Higher Education).
“This may contribute positively towards increasing the cohort of boys and girls at Key Stage 4 and significantly increasing the numbers of girls at Key Stage 5 and potential future female engineers.”
The study also found that while students in the UK spent the largest amount of time studying science and had the highest proficiency levels in science, they reported the lowest levels of enjoyment in the subject. Girls enjoyment levels ranked “significantly lower” than boys.
Enjoyment of a subject was as significant as attainment in terms of whether a pupil continued pursuing a subject, EngineeringUK found.
In Year 8, motivation, performance and attainment dipped, with academic subjects such as maths and physics being most affected. EngineeringUK said encouraging more practical application of science during this period could “positively affect pupils’ subject decision making at Key Stage 4”.
The study also found that careers information, advice and guidance still reinforced gender stereotypes. Feedback and experiences revealed by girls seeking careers guidance showed it still remained “significantly gender biased”.