THE BLOG

Maths for Girls? It's as Easy as ABC - So, Why Are Schools Not Doing More to Encourage It?

28/02/2014 12:49 GMT | Updated 29/04/2014 10:59 BST

I write this as a London-based corporate tax accountant with skills so specialised that they can barely be understood by people outside the profession.

But I could easily have been a secretary or cook if I had followed the only ambitions my school were prepared to entertain for me.

There is nothing wrong with being either a cook or a secretary, but there is with limiting the choices for girls to gender-based stereotypes when they show other potential.

Baroness Lane-Fox has raised again the cultural problem the UK faces in persuading more women into technical subjects at A-level, such as maths and physics. If we are truly to eradicate gender bias in the adult workplace, we need to focus more on removing it in schools.

It is, as Lady Lane-Fox said, "frightening" that women are not being encouraged into the sciences. The Institute of Physics reported recently that between 2010 and 2012 two-thirds of pupils taking A-level maths were male. Apparently, four times more boys than girls studied physics.

The answer to helping girls and young women make their education choices is more than just raising the problem and hoping for change.

We need to see much more mentoring and for schools to actively, not passively, ensure a throughput of female role models talking to, and hopefully inspiring, pupils. Governors and local education authorities should take a firm lead.

I am now a governor of a high achieving academy, one with excellent role models in the senior leadership team. But I fear ours is still the exception.

When I was at school in the 1970s a lot of what are seen now as flagrant prejudices were tolerated, including racial and sexual discrimination. It is fair to say that there was academic discrimination as well. Girls did this, boys did that. Could I have become an engineer? Who knows? Metal work class really was not an option.

If I had been a boy at my school, nobody would have suggested I consider secretarial studies, of course. Fortunately, I failed my typing exams so my careers adviser was forced to think again.

Unfortunately, I was pushed towards catering college. (Women. Kitchens. You know it makes sense).

By good fortune a family friend, noticing that my A levels were science and maths, thought that a nutritional science degree would be a worthwhile compromise between the tug of my academic leanings and the schools determination to get me working an oven. As it turned out, the friend was nearly right.

But finally, and against the odds, I made the career change I needed to truly flourish and found my way into accountancy. My instincts, skills and efforts have been rewarded by a satisfying and demanding career.

The business was then, as it is now, dominated by men. But at least these days there are very few of them who consider gender bias a benefit or acceptable.

Women should be prepared to switch career even if they have been poorly directed at school, as I was, and to rise above the gender prejudices that still exist, disguised perhaps, in many business sectors.

Something is clearly wrong if girls are picking up that maths and physics are somehow 'male' pursuits. It makes no sense and is not true. One of the most famous mathematicians this county has ever produced was the Nineteenth Century computer pioneer, Ada Lovelace. A woman.