But he says the above average girl-boy ratio might also stem from the school’s ethos, a “can do” attitude that rejects stereotype.
(In chemistry it’s just under 50 per cent girls; in maths, about 40 per cent.) Not so in physics.
According to a recent report by the Institute of Physics, nearly half of all mixed state schools have no girls studying A-level physics at all.
Male and female students think the male lecturers are more knowledgable, are better with equipment and have a better “grasp” of the subject.
Graves’s study points to “confirmation bias”: students think men are better at physics because that confirms their preconceived ideas. The best-known living physicists are male, be they eminent theorists such as Stephen Hawking or popularisers such as Brian Cox.
Although all students benefit from such context, it is those for whom the subject is a less common choice – girls – who benefit the most.
At Colyton Grammar, a state-funded academy near Seaton in Devon, head of physics Peter Webber offers an example of how context can help.
Ito’s study, which is published in the journal Science, suggests girls could be welcomed into physics with routine values-affirmation exercises.
More generally, it suggests that students perform better if they are encouraged to recognise the point of their efforts.
And yet, like most other British schools, Redland Green is struggling with a basic physics question: why there are so few girls.
Its physics teacher, Sarah Webb, is so enthusiastic about her subject that she has just completed a Ph D in atmospheric spectroscopy on the side.
Although female physicists do appear on UK television and radio – the astrophysicist Lucie Green, for instance – none has become a household name.