Aim: To encourage more girls to study A Level Physics, to raise attainment and to see a greater number of pupils entering university to study Physics.
Background: At the time of starting the project, the majority of places on the Physics A Level courses were occupied by boys and the department had no specialist Physics teacher. Results in A Level Physics were very comparable with those of Chemistry and Biology and also Maths, but the course was not performing well when measured by indicators such as ALIS and Alps, which measure pupil progress based on GCSE results.
Year 1: Initiatives included inviting A Level students to talk to the KS4 girls, trips to engineering careers days in London and summer schools at Queen Mary, University of London. Activities in school were further developed with the Science club taking on more steady staff and the Sixth Form benefitting from visiting workshops from Queen Mary. KS3 and 4 schemes of work were rewritten and taster sessions were run for Year 11 girls to experience an A Level Physics lesson for themselves. A programme of staff training was started with a course running across the year entitled ‘Physics for non-specialists’, with a strong focus on difficult topics and conducting practical work in Physics.
Year 2: Improved GCSE results led to a greater number of girls moving into A Level Physics and the Year 12 class was a majority female class for the first time (12 out of 20 pupils). These girls went on to achieve much more highly than the boys, so reversing the trend of previous years. A Physics graduate was recruited and she was able to provide a great deal of input into the delivery of A Level and GCSE Physics and help with the on-going ‘Physics for non-specialists’ course. She also provided a strong role model for the girls. Students entered the British Physics Olympiad for the first time as well as a robotics competition run out of Brunel University. Visits and video-linked calls with academics for a variety of physical science-based areas were arranged.
Year 3: Unfortunately the Physics specialist and another key Science teacher left, therefore enhancement focused on external activities, e.g. girls going to summer schools in Physics and Engineering at Cambridge and at Imperial. Use was also made of the ‘Women in Science and Engineering’ day at UCL. More students than before entered the British Physics Olympiad across Years 10-13.
Evidence: Exam results, subject take-up, attendance at extracurricular events.
Impact: The overall trend seen in GCSE Physics was one of sharp improvement followed by a steady plateauing of the results, both in terms of raw scores and in the amount of progress being made. A Level results did not show such a sharp improvement, nor the value-added, but there was a lot of improvement seen among girls in each year group, who overtook the boys in terms of grades and progress made during the course. Looking at the pupils who attended clubs and special events in Key Stage 4, it seems that these events did not lead to many students choosing STEM subjects after 16, but they did excite and interest those pupils who were already inclined towards Physics and Maths.
Reflections: It seems it is not extra activities and add-ons that cause girls to move into A Level Physics, but it is much more likely to be the natural enthusiasm of the teacher for the subject together with the confidence of the teacher to deal with the subject in hand.
Contact: Daniel Clift, Head of Physics, firstname.lastname@example.org