A pilot programme designed to counter the factors that turn many schoolgirls away from physics is due to run over the next three years thanks to a generous £201,000 donation from the Drayson Foundation.
The funds will enable the Institute of Physics (IOP) to work with a cluster of six secondary and a selection of primary schools in the Thames Valley region to find ways of reducing the gender imbalance of students progressing to physics A-level.
In a pilot study with secondary and primary schools, the IOP will run a selection of activities to build girls’ confidence in the classroom, while also raising awareness of potential gender biases across the whole school.
Dr Frances Saunders, President of the Institute of Physics, said, “We want to inspire students and ensure that everyone who develops an interest in physics is encouraged to pursue the subject and reap the benefits of a physics education.
“This new approach uses the most recent evidence that we have to help open up the subject to everyone, especially girls.”
Commenting on the project, Lady (Elspeth) Drayson, Trustee of the Drayson Foundation said: “As someone who read physics at University and whose whole life has benefitted from studying the subject, I know how important this issue is. Physics is one of the oldest academic disciplines and one of the most important. It provides the key to understanding the most fundamental aspects of our universe and to meeting the challenges that we face in the 21st century. It is vital that women play a full part in this exciting future and we are delighted to support this excellent initiative by the Institute of Physics to understand what works in helping girls to study physics at school. We expect this funding to help hundreds of young women and lead them to an exciting and fulfilling career in this most fascinating of subjects.”
In 2013, physics was the second most popular A-level subject for boys but languished at 17th for girls.
With this a long-standing imbalance, new research published in IOP’s December 2013 report Closing Doors suggested that gender bias is having a significant effect on subject choice in schools across England.
The different strands of activity will seek to address the endemic problem in three different ways.
Firstly by increasing the confidence of secondary school girls in the subject and encouraging them to own and address the issue themselves, in part by acting as ambassadors for physics during visits to primary schools.
The IOP will, secondly, be working with and training teachers to ensure that teaching methods appeal to girls as much as boys by sharing best classroom practice.
Thirdly, the Institute will work with senior management teams to combat gender stereotyping in all subjects.
With this donation from the Drayson Foundation to IOP’s inaugural fundraising campaign, Opportunity Physics, the IOP will be able to inspire hundreds of young women to consider a life in science.
Institute of Physics – www.iop.org