This paper represents a 10‐year follow‐up to research funded by the Equal Opportunities Commission for Northern Ireland. It examines the impact of government science education policy through the uptake of science A levels and patterns of attainment among boys and girls. The nature of the study allows for an examination of the consequences of developing changes in educational policy following the introduction of the National Curriculum.The sample included 1600 year‐12 pupils from 21 Northern Ireland selective grammar schools, representing 17 per cent of the total population of pupils in this sector during the academic year 1994/95. The results show that on average, boys were taking more science A levels than girls. This held true for pupils in coeducational as compared with single‐sex schools; for pupils in Protestant as compared with Catholic schools; and for pupils from non‐manual as compared with manual backgrounds. Among boys the average number of science A levels taken in 1995 was lower than in 1985. Among girls overall, the average number of science A levels was higher in 1995 than in 1985, except for girls in Catholic schools.Focus group interviews conducted with lower sixth‐form girls suggested that they retain some stereotyped views of particular curriculum subjects. However, the girls’ improved expectations of employment prospects now, compared with 1985, appear to explain why they choose to take science A levels. The general increase in participation, therefore, may be explained by perceptions of wider labour‐market opportunities for women, rather than changes in attitude to the curriculum. Educational attainment, measured by GCSE results, was higher for girls than for boys. In explaining this result, our evidence from the focus.
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