IOP receives £4.3m to extend work on Stimulating Physics Network

16 May 2014

The government has awarded £4.3m to the IOP to continue its Stimulating Physics Network programme, including funding for a pilot project to identify and overcome the factors that discourage girls from studying A-level physics.

IOP receives £4.3 m to extend work on Stimulating Physics Network

The funding will enable the Institute to continue to manage its highly successful programme of support for teachers of physics and also to launch the new project, called Improving Gender Balance.

This will involve specialists from the IOP working with 24 schools over the next two years. They will look at the factors that discourage girls from studying A-level physics, including attitudes towards the subject, teachers’ classroom practice and gender stereotyping, and trial a series of intensive interventions intended to overcome these.

Education minister Elizabeth Truss said: “The Institute of Physics has found that the difference between pupils falling in or out of love with physics is the teaching that they receive. That’s why I am delighted to continue funding the Stimulating Physics Network.

“Inspirational teaching, challenging stereotypes and getting young people excited about the huge potential of science is the best way to get more pupils studying it and going on to enjoy the higher wages these skills command.

“Alongside our Maths and Physics Chairs scheme, which is recruiting top PhD graduates to become teachers, the SPN will ensure that we continue producing great teachers to inspire our children.”

The IOP’s president, Frances Saunders, said: “We’re delighted that the minister has agreed to continue to fund our highly successful programme. The schools that have participated in the SPN have driven much of the increase in the number of students sitting physics A-level over the last few years, and we’re pleased to be able to promote this successful approach in an even greater number of schools.

“We’re also very excited to be piloting the Improving Gender Balance project as part of the SPN. We now have a real opportunity to find the solution to the chronic problem of too few girls studying physics, something which seriously limits girls’ choice of future careers.”

Improving Gender Balance aims to improve the number of girls progressing to A-level physics by addressing the factors which evidence suggests are important. It involves three distinct interventions in a total of 20 schools to identify the most effective ways of improving progression for girls. Strand A involves working with girls directly to improve their confidence and resilience in the subject; Strand B will be working intensively with teachers of physics around teaching strategies and classroom management; Strand C will be looking at whole school interventions to challenge and raise awareness of gender stereotyping in school culture. The effectiveness of the strands will be externally evaluated, with the intention that the findings will be applied to and integrated into the main body of support provided by the IOP to schools.

The SPN, which launched in 2009, is run by the IOP in partnership with Myscience and backed by government. It works with schools where low numbers of students are going on to study A-level physics.

It provides free support to schools and teachers as well running science activities for children to get them excited about physics. Since 2012, the SPN has provided personalised mentoring for 400 new physics teachers each year; 80,000 hours’ continuing professional development (CPD) for all teachers of physics, including a number of free four-day summer schools for teachers without a specialist background in physics; and free physics engagement activities for more than 60,000 children.

The SPN is based around a team of 35 Teaching and Learning Coaches who are highly experienced and successful physics teachers. Each coach provides a bespoke programme of CPD and pupil engagement activities for 12 SPN Partner Schools for two years, at no cost to the school. Over the next two years, the SPN will also be building links with the new Science Learning Partnerships and Teaching School alliances, and will be offering free physics CPD for teachers through these networks.

Physics teachers in SPN Partner Schools without a specialist background in physics can attend four-day residential summer schools, which are held at Oxford, Cambridge and York each year, at no cost to the teacher or school. The project also provides personalised mentoring for more than 400 early-career physics teachers each year, which lasts from the initial training year to the second year as a qualified teacher.

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