The last few years have seen increasing attention paid to the impact of gender stereotyping on children. Online campaigns have highlighted the way toys are marketed, typically with science kits for boys and make up sets for girls, and separate gendered sections in toy shops. A report last month by the Girl Guides found that girls – from primary school, right into their teenage years – are suffering the effects of sexism, from unwanted groping to low self-esteem.

A report by the Institute of Physics (IOP), released today, suggests that gender may also be playing a role in students’ choice of A-level subjects. Titled “Closing Doors”, the report found a clear gender bias in six subjects. Maths, economics, and physics are dominated by boys, and biology, English, and psychology by girls. The report concluded that 49 per cent of co-educational secondary schools were strengthening this gender divide by failing to counter the stereotypical reputation of subjects. A report by the IOP last year found that girls in single sex schools were 2.5 times more likely to take physics A-level than those in mixed schools, suggesting that gender certainly does come into it.

Dr Ceri Brenner is a working physicist who frequently gives talks to girls at schools all over the UK, explaining what a career in science can entail. “There’s a lack of female role models in science, and that’s really important for teenage girls because they often have confidence issues,” she tells me. “There’s also a perception that it’s too difficult or not interesting enough. The girls that explicitly say ‘physics is a boys’ subject’ are in a minority – although they do exist. But sometimes the way it is taught at GCSE puts girls off or gives more space to boys. And in some schools there still is this attitude that certain subjects are more appropriate for certain genders.”

Of course, this cuts both ways. Writing in the Guardian, the renowned professor of physics Athene Donald recalls a teacher telling her that “’boys can’t do English’, thereby apparently consigning 50 per cent of the population to the dustbin of literary endeavour”. She concludes that today’s report “reinforces the fact that schools tend to educate in ways that conform to gendered stereotypes, hindering both boys and girls from fulfilling their full potential.”

Perhaps given the wider context of gender stereotyping in society and the media, this is unsurprising. Just last week, most newspapers reported on a scientific study that purported to show “the hardwired difference between male and female brains” (as the Independent’s headline read). The study, by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, concluded that men are naturally better at map-reading and women are better at intuition. It is the latest in a long line of similar studies. One, in 2007, even found that women were genetically predisposed to like the colour pink. Feminist writers like Natasha Walter have flagged up this trend in science as a return to biological determinism (the belief that human behaviour is down to nature, not nurture). On the latest study, some have pointed out that the gender differences proclaimed as ground-breaking are nearly all trivially small. The conclusions also ignored the role of experience on shaping the brain.

While such studies – and the enthusiastic reporting of them – may not have a directly quantifiable impact on the choices made by boys and girls, it all forms part of the same picture. Rather than encouraging this lazy gender divide, or even allowing it to continue, schools should be doing everything they can to break it down.