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Education and outreach

Levelling Up: Physics

A support programme designed to prepare sixth-form students for studying physics at university.

Levelling Up: Physics is a support programme for A-level students from groups currently under-represented in physics who are aiming to study physics and related subjects at university.

The programme runs alongside students’ A-level studies and gives them access to a dedicated tutor and peer mentor from a university local to them.

Sixth-form students take part in regular, guided tutorials, mentoring sessions, guest lectures, and activities designed to make sure they are ready to apply for, and succeed, at university.

The programme, which is running at the University of Birmingham (the Hub), Durham UniversityImperial College London, the University of Nottingham and the University of Southampton is an encouraging and intellectually stimulating introduction to studying at university whilst directly supporting A-level studies.

The IOP worked with the project’s co-founder, Tony Hill, to develop and initiate the Levelling up: Physics programme in 2020. We hosted the pilot phase of the programme that was successfully completed in 2022.

Now that the Hub role sits with the University of Birmingham, the IOP continues to support the project via its Steering Group. We are proud to champion the Levelling Up: Physics programme and to encourage A-level students, teachers and potential university partners to take part.

Levelling Up: Physics is part of a wider initiative and there are parallel programmes running in other subjects. More information about the wider programme can be found on the Levelling Up: STEM website.

Levelling Up physics students at Durham University

Physics students at Durham University

How does the 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.
Students walking past the Bramall Music Building at the University of Birmingham

The Bramall Music Building at the University of Birmingham. Copyright: the University of Birmingham

Academic tuition and support

Students receive high-quality materials and take part in a structured study programme consisting of self-study problems followed by a tutorial. Tutorials are informal and students discuss topics with a small group of other students, led by 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 also discuss real-life applications of the science and links to research.

A tower in the background on the campus of Imperial College London, with students in the foreground

Imperial College London. Credit: Thomas Angus, ICL

Mentoring and support

Participating students also take part in and are 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;
  • 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.
Female Student

Who can apply?

The project is open to year-12 students 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 identify those applicants who they feel will benefit the most from the programme.

You can find more information about each partner university’s programme on the following pages.

Levelling Up physics students in a lecture room at the University of Birmingham

Levelling Up: Physics participants at the University of Birmingham

Find out more

Information for A-level students, families and schools

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

  • An online tutorial group;
  • A Programme Tutor; 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 regular programme of activities. These vary slightly from university to university but will roughly follow the pattern:

  • 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 an online tutorial where students can discuss the topic in more detail;
  • Some weeks there will be a mentor session when the students can get together online 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.

Levelling Up partners are committed to safeguarding the welfare of young people. All the participating universities run sessions according to the safeguarding policies and procedures in place at that institution. As a minimum, online sessions are run by undergraduates, postgraduates and university staff who have current disclosure and barring service (DBS) certificates.

Information for universities

The University of Birmingham is acting as a Hub for Levelling Up: Physics. The Hub role is to co-ordinate, facilitate and support other institutions who are interested in joining the initiative.

Any university offering undergraduate physics is eligible to join and offer the Levelling Up programme.

To find out more, please contact the Hub: [email protected].

How to apply

Students are able to apply directly to the programme at their chosen partner university via the relevant university’s Levelling Up web page:

Students must supply the name and contact details of a teacher at their school as part of their application.

Get in touch

If you are a student, school or sixth form and would like to find out more about the programme, please get in touch with the institution you are interested in:

If you are a university that offers undergraduate physics and would like to find out more about the programme, including becoming a host university, please contact the Levelling Up Hub, which is based at the University of Birmingham: [email protected].

Pilot and evaluation

The pilot of Levelling Up: Physics began in spring 2021 and ended in summer 2022. Three universities – Birmingham, Durham, and Oxford – recruited A-level students to the pilot programme.

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.

More detail will be posted once the evaluation is complete.