Girls’ take-up of AS-level physics improves faster in SPN schools

Progression to AS-level physics among girls is increasing at double the rate in schools that are part of the Institute’s Stimulating Physics Network (SPN) compared to non-SPN schools.

In 2013/14, schools that joined the project in the previous year saw girls’ progression to AS physics go up by 7.6%, compared to just 3.5% in schools that are not part of the network. Among all students, progression in those SPN schools increased by 3.4% despite declining by 0.6% in non-SPN schools.

These figures are from an interim evaluation report produced in March and published on the IOP website in October, as part of a sustained promotion of the Institute’s education projects.

Attainment at GCSE also rose more in SPN schools, with the number of students achieving an A*–C grade in physics increasing by 25.5% in schools that joined the project in 2013/14 compared to just 19.5% in non-SPN schools.

In 2014/15 the SPN generated 42,993 teacher-hours of professional development for teachers of physics, and 53,788 student-hours of student-engagement activities for those studying the subject, across its 400 partner schools.

Of teachers surveyed for the evaluation who had made changes to classroom practice as a result of SPN, 100% of them reported a positive effect on students’ engagement in physics lessons.

The SPN is funded by the Department for Education as part of the government’s ongoing commitment to drive up participation in STEM subjects, and managed by the Institute of Physics (IOP), drawing on the IOP’s experience, resources and knowledge in physics education and supporting physics teachers. The programme includes custom programmes of professional development for teachers, with a designated coach for about 400 partner schools, student-engagement and careers-awareness activities, personal mentoring for early-career physics teachers and summer schools for non-specialist physics teachers.

The Institute’s education programmes manager, Dr David Cameron, said:

“SPN is the only project of its type which has been able to show clear and causally-linked evidence of impact on progression rates to A-level.

“There is more to be done. The number of students studying physics A-level is still disproportionately low, and the proportion of these that are girls is only 21%. More than 2,500 state-funded secondary schools have not yet benefited from direct support from SPN.

“There is a strong need for the continuation of the project, not only to provide direct support for physics teachers – particularly those without a specialist background in physics – but also to facilitate the development of the capacity of schools and teachers to lead their own networks and professional development, to share the practice, skills and culture from those schools where physics is strong to colleagues in other schools. This is the practical realisation of an empowered, autonomous school-led system, and the growth of an enlightened professionalism among teachers.”

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