Children as young as five should be taught that gender stereotyping and sexist language are as wrong as racist abuse, a new report says.

The Institute Of Physics report Opening Doors says schools should make greater efforts to break down prejudices that lead to girls shying away from scientific subjects.

Teachers should not make any remarks about their own abilities, for example, in case the message reinforces any notion of relative difficulty.

Playground phrases to be admonished include:

  • “Man up”.
  • Calling boys “sissies”
  • Calling children or each other “cupcake”
  • Boys telling girls to “make them a sandwich”
  • Teachers saying to boys “don’t be a girl”.
  • Calling girls who study "male" subjects “lesbians”.

The IOP says it wants to see schools appoint “gender champions” in school leadership teams and parents, who have a great influence on career choice but often exhibit gender bias should be confronted.

Boys are twice as likely to study maths, three times as likely to study further maths and more than four times as likely to take A-level physics while twice as many girls studied English A-level as boys in 2014 and 70% of psychology A-level students were girls.

IOP president Prof Roy Sambles said: “The low uptake of physics among girls has been a long-standing concern of ours and a problem that we’ve been trying to deal with for some time.

“But we’ve found that it’s not a job we can do completely by ourselves and that there’s a lot in common between the low numbers of girls taking physics and similar gender imbalances in other subjects.”

Stereotyping boys

The stereotyping goes both ways with the report saying: “Lack of confidence and resilience can present a barrier for girls taking subjects perceived to be the most challenging and boys can get caught up in a culture of not working hard.”

The report ties in with a conference in central London on October 20 sponsored by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU).

Chair of the conference Dame Barbara Stocking said: “We know we have a problem with gender stereotyping of subjects in schools.

“This is particularly an issue for girls in maths, physics and engineering, boys in modern foreign languages and a general underperformance in GCSE grades.”