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Education and outreach

Levelling Up: Physics

We are excited to be able to offer under-represented sixth-form students the opportunity to take part in our support programme designed to prepare them for studying physics and related subjects at university.

Levelling Up: Physics is an academic and pastoral support programme, supporting students from under-represented and lower socio-economic groups who are aiming to pursue the study of physics and physics-related subjects, such as engineering, at university.

The IOP is leading and managing the pilot programme in collaboration with our partner universities: Durham University, the University of Birmingham and the University of Oxford.

Sixth-form students taking part in the pilot have the opportunity to attend a variety of (online) subject-specific tutorials, mentoring sessions, guest lectures and activities designed to prepare them for university study and to help make sure they are ready to apply for and succeed in higher education.

Participants will get a taste of what it is like to be a part of their host university, through regular contact with mentors and academics from physics and other related subject departments.

The programme will be a fun, encouraging and intellectually stimulating introduction to studying at university whilst directly supporting A-level studies.

This is part of a wider initiative and there are parallel programmes running in mathematics and chemistry too. The London Mathematical Society is co-ordinating the maths programme, and Durham University is co-ordinating the chemistry programme. Some more information about the wider programme can be found on the Levelling Up: STEM website.

Through the pilot we are aiming to find out about the challenges facing young people from lower socio-economic and other under-represented groups.

Currently, people from lower socio-economic groups are 2.4 times less likely to study physics at A-level, and 10 times less likely to achieve an A grade or higher. We hope to be able to understand this better as a result of this work, and develop evidence that will inform other work for the IOP and universities.

During the pilot phase, universities will identify the characteristics of under-represented groups within their institutions and target those groups for participation in the project. Ultimately we would like to see institutions operating in a more open and accessible way that will help all young people to access physics and physics-related courses on an equal footing.

The School of Education at Durham University is conducting an evaluation of the pilot.

The evaluation is seeking to understand the successes, challenges and/or barriers in the implementation of the Levelling Up pilot. It will also investigate the impact for student participants, including how much students from different backgrounds have benefitted from participating in the programme.


How does the physics programme work?

There are three main aspects of the programme:

  • Academic tuition and support to stretch and challenge students in their physics studies;
  • Mentoring and support to develop the skills required to successfully apply for and succeed in higher education; and
  • Finding out more about the academic community at university so students know what to expect when they begin post-A-level study.

Academic tuition and support

Students receive high-quality materials and a structured study programme consisting of self-study problems followed by a one-hour tutorial with up to six other students and a tutor.

The programme runs across years 12 and 13 and covers a range of different topics designed to align with (but not replace) A-level courses. Students will also learn about real-life applications of the science and links to research.

Mentoring and support

Participating students are also given:

  • Small group mentoring sessions, which provide opportunities to discuss university life and university applications in a supportive environment where they can address any concerns about their studies;
  • The opportunity for an onsite or virtual visit (based on COVID-19 restrictions), to include a tour of the university’s physics department;
  • Online guest lectures, given by renowned academics, in a range of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects to provide information about many different aspects and applications of a wide range of STEM careers; and
  • The opportunity to get to know and work with members of the university community including their mentors and guest lecturers.

Who can apply?

The 2021-22 pilot project for current year 12s is underway. We anticipate that applications for the next phase of the project will open towards the end of the autumn term 2021 for a new cohort to start in the spring of 2022.

The project is open to year-12 students in England who are studying physics AND maths at A-level (or equivalent), are considering studying physics at university and meet the eligibility criteria outlined below.

All applicants should be interested in finding out more about studying a STEM subject at university and finding out about what the university has to offer.

As places are limited and highly sought-after, each partner university will use eligibility and selection criteria to help us identify those applicants who we feel will benefit the most from the programme.

See each partner university’s criteria.

There are similar projects running for those thinking about chemistry or maths at university.

Durham University

What can students expect?

In the year 2021-22 the physics programmes are taking place at Durham University, the University of Birmingham and the University of Oxford

Upon successful placement on the programme, students are allocated (to):

  • A tutorial group (approximately six students per group);
  • A Programme Tutor (with experience of tutoring A-level physics students); and
  • A Programme Support Mentor (a current student at university).

Following an online introductory session at the start of the programme, there will be a weekly programme of activities. These vary slightly to fit term times and exams but will roughly follow the pattern of:

  • In week one students might spend 30 to 90 minutes on self-study materials – such as problems, puzzles or background reading to prepare for their tutorial;
  • These self-study weeks will be followed by a one-hour online tutorial the following week where students can discuss the topic in more detail;
  • Some weeks there will be a mentor session when the students can get together as a group to talk about different topics related to university life and discuss any questions or concerns they might have.

It is therefore desirable that the student is able to commit an average of one hour per week to the programme.

The pilot programme started in spring 2021 and will run throughout school term times until June 2022.

The University of Birmingham

How to apply

All programmes are currently closed for applications. This page will be updated with news of the next phase of the project in September 2022.

Deadlines for applications 2021-22

Durham University: The deadline for applications has now passed.

Programme launch: March 2021.

The University of Birmingham: The deadline for applications has now passed.

Programme launch: June 2021.

The University of Oxford: The deadline for applications has now passed.

Programme launch: July 2021.

Further information and contact details please email:
[email protected].

We plan to involve more universities in future years. If you are a university that offers undergraduate physics and would like to find out more, please get in touch.