Capital Physics is a project funded by the London Schools Excellence Fund, and managed by the Institute of Physics.
A-level physics is an enabling subject – it facilitates access to top universities and unlocks doors to high-status careers, both within and outside of the sciences.
But students’ attainment is not as good as it could be. Across London schools in particular, access to, and achievement in, A-level physics is inconsistent, and compares unfavourably to the rest of England:
- Of London’s 360 state secondary schools with sixth forms, 28.3% had no physics A-level entries in 2012
- A further 27.8% of those schools entered between one and five pupils
- Of schools who entered more than five pupils that year, just 8.6% saw a tenth of them or more achieving an A-grade or better
- Overall, that’s 233 schools in London with either no entries, low entries, or low achievement
- Across England, 10.4% of boys and just 3.2% of girls progressed to AS-level physics in 2013/14
To try to solve this problem, Capital Physics was set up in March 2014 with funding from the London Schools Excellence fund.
We're developing teachers' skills
The quality of an education system as a whole depends on the quality of its teachers. That quality can be improved by professional development. Therefore one of the most effective ways of improving experiences and results for students is through continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers. It’s this approach that Capital Physics adopted.
The project has established six networks of schools across London. Each of them has one advocate school, chosen on the basis of its proven record of attainment in A-level physics, and 10 partner schools identified as potentially benefitting from the advocates’ support.
Experienced physics teachers are employed as coaches by the Institute of Physics on a part-time basis to work with one of the networks. They run six sessions of CPD a year for each of the 10 schools they work with, and three events for their entire network. Workshops are aimed at improving teachers’ subject knowledge and their ability to teach physics in an engaging, effective way.
The aim is to improve attainment in partner schools – such as more students being awarded top grades – and to increase progression from AS to A-level physics.
The results: it’s starting to work
The Capital Project has so far seen 250 teachers undertake more than 2000 teacher-hours of professional development across 250 events.
We know that it’s having an impact on them: 96% of participating teachers report a positive effect on their classrooms, such as better subject knowledge, better use of experiments, and more engagement from their students.
The project has improved the confidence of 70% of teachers taking part – and one even changed her mind about leaving the profession.
But more than this, we now know that it’s starting to have the effect it’s intended to have: more students taking physics A-level, and better grades for those that do.
As of 2015, among the schools we’ve been working with:
- Average progression from AS-level to A-level physics has gone up from 65% to 75%
- Improvements in results in AS-level physics were seen in 74% of schools
- The AS-level pass rate went up from 74% to 82%
These are encouraging results, showing that our work is having a real impact on physics in this group of London schools. But this is still only the beginning.
There is still a need to increase access to and achievement in A-level physics. The longer Capital Physics continues, the more the culture of professional development gets embedded in partner schools – and extending it to other schools would be better still.
Capital Physics is one of several IOP education projects. If you’re interested in contributing, please see our fundraising pages.