"The sample testing shows that, for the first time since sample testing began, a small but significant gender gap has emerged in favour of girls," Spiller said.

Spiller, who is principal of St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School in Brisbane, said Australia’s results in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) confirm that Australian girls do not experience a gender disadvantage in their academic achievement in science up to Year 10, although they may report being less confident than boys about their abilities. However, only 29 per cent of university STEM graduates are women.

"Clearly it is girls’ career aspirations and therefore their choice of senior secondary subjects that are contributing to the gender gap in STEM participation observed at tertiary level and in industry," Spiller said.

"Schools and careers advisors are very aware that girls are likely to express more interest in careers in science-related fields if they see this work as helping others – hence the attraction of medicine – or as helping communities, cities and societies to function better and in more sustainable ways.

"Role models of women achievers in all branches of science can help build girls’ confidence and aspirations.

"Schools, parents, government, academia, industry and the media – everyone has a part to play in promoting women achievers if more girls are to grasp opportunities in STEM fields."