Inspired to Support Girls in Maths

Thursday, 1 March 2018

What influences girls’ subject choices at school? Are girls interested in careers that require high level mathematics?

L Prof Jenny Gore and colleagues

A new research project, funded in honour of a woman dedicated to sharing her passion for mathematics with girls, is answering these questions and more.

Inspired by the University's Aspirations Longitudinal Study research team, John Bowers (MCom 1975, BCom 1970) has funded a project to specifically examine the factors that influence girls’ decisions to study maths. The gift to research was made in memory of his late wife Margaret Bowers (nee MacLeod – Grad Dip Ed. 1968, BA 1968).

“We’re very fortunate that a career dedicated to teaching maths has inspired a gift to support education research. This project will clearly establish the barriers and enablers to participating in high level maths at school and help us to better understand why interested girls are either opting – or missing – out on careers that rely on maths,” - Laureate Professor Jenny Gore, School of Education, Faculty of Education and Arts

The Girls in Maths project builds on the findings from the Aspirations Longitudinal Study, led by Laureate Professor Jenny Gore. It will collect data from students, parents and teachers to provide deeper insights into the factors shaping girls’ career and educational aspirations.

The Challenge of Girls in Maths

Participation in secondary mathematics has declined considerably over the last three decades (Kennedy, Lyons and Quinn, 2014). In New South Wales alone, the proportion of students studying no mathematics has tripled, whilst the proportion of students studying high level mathematics has almost halved, since the early ‘90s (Wilson and Mack, 2014). This picture is particularly concerning for girls.

In 2015 there were almost twice as many boys as girls enrolled in advanced mathematics, and fewer than 1 in every 5 girls participated in intermediate level mathematics (Barrington and Evans, 2016). Correspondingly, girls are underrepresented in mathematically-intensive degrees, and in careers requiring high level mathematics (Prinsley, Beavis and Clifford-Hordacre, 2016; Roberts, 2014). Meanwhile government and industry reports identify that mathematics- related occupations, particularly those in STEM, will grow rapidly in coming years, and will be essential for supporting employment and productivity growth (Education Council, 2015).

Honouring Margaret Bowers

Margaret Bowers was a dedicated secondary school teacher of mathematics to girls, over a career spanning more than 30 years. She met her husband John Bowers at the University of Newcastle in 1964. Mr Bowers made the decision to fund further study into the decision-making processes surrounding girls’ participation in maths to honour Margaret’s passion for teaching girls. The aim is to help identify any contributing factors to the under representation of girls in mathematics and related STEM fields.

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