By Andrew Young

education reporter

Girlpower is forcing its way into school science laboratories and threatening to topple long-standing male dominance.

Last year, for the first time, girls topped the results for all five bursary science papers - chemistry, physics, biology, agriculture and horticulture, and general science.

And an official analysis shows that girls are likely to gain higher grades generally in school certificate, sixth-form certificate and bursary.

While twice as many boys take physics, females are now tipped to outperform males in that subject. Boys were holding their ground in chemistry, economics and statistics.

Diocesan School for Girls, in central Auckland, has opened a $4 million science block to cope with the flood of students eyeing a high-tech future.

The principal, Gail Thomson, said the new laboratories were designed for girls to cluster around and work together. This recognised the difference from boys, who tended to sit in straight rows and be teacher-directed.

Gail Thomson said the school strongly encouraged girls into all sciences, not just biology, which they traditionally opted for.

It is a message getting through to female students nationwide, with the unprecedented talent in all fields.

In the 1997 bursary exams, a higher proportion of girls were awarded scholarships or A and B passes in both physics and biology. In chemistry, boys have a slim advantage.