Top scientist calls on girls to ditch dolls for 'creative toys' like Lego and Meccano

Girls should swap dolls for toys such as Lego and Meccano to get them more interested in science and engineering, one of Britain's top scientists has said.

Dame Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge University, also attacked schools for taking the "lazy" option of finding work experience placements for pupils that reinforce gender stereotypes.

Speaking before her inaugural address as the new president of the British Science Association, Dame Athene said: "We need to change the way we think about boys and girls and what's appropriate for them from a very early age. Does the choice of toys matter? I believe it does.

"We introduce social constructs by stereotyping what toys boys and girls receive from the earliest age. Girls toys are typically liable to lead to passivity - combing the hair of Barbie, for instance - not building, imagining or being creative with Lego or Meccano."

Girls looking for work experience were also likely to find themselves in hairdressing salons while boys went to the "local garage".

She pointed out that her own field of physics was notorious for its lack of girl students, who accounted for only about a fifth of all those taking the subject at A level.

"If teachers and parents, peers and the media give the message to the teenage girl that physics and engineering are subjects for boys and men we should not be surprised.

"Organisations such as the CBI are always highlighting the shortage of qualified students in Stem (science, technoloogy, engineering, mathematics) subjects and one way of addressing this would be to ensure that half the population doesn't feel its not for them."