Physics network to continue its school support with £4.3m grant


The Stimulating Physics Network (SPN) is to continue offering free support to schools after receiving a £4.3 million government investment.

The Stimulating Physics Network (SPN) is to continue offering free support to schools after receiving a £4.3 million government investment.

The SPN is run by the Institute of Physics (IoP) and works with schools where low numbers of students are going on to study A level physics. It offers free support to teachers and also runs science activities aimed at engaging children.

As well as continuing the work of the SPN, the funding is also to be used to launch a pilot project – entitled Improving Gender Balance – to investigate the factors that discourage girls from studying A level physics.

The SPN was originally launched in 2009 and since 2012 has given personalised mentoring for 400 new physics teachers every year as well as 80,000 hours of CPD for all teachers of physics. This includes a number of free four-day summer schools for teachers without a specialist backgrounds in physics. The SPN, which has a team of 35 teaching and learning coaches, has also run free physics engagement activities for more than 60,000 children.

The funding will also be used to create links between the SPN and the new Science Learning Partnerships and Teaching School Alliances to extend its free physics CPD for teachers through these networks.

Meanwhile, the Improving Gender Balance project will involve specialists from the IoP working with 24 schools over the next two years. 

They will look at a range of factors that stop them from taking their physics studies further, such as their attitudes towards physics, teachers’ classroom practice, and gender stereotyping. They will then trial “intensive interventions” to try and overcome these issues.

The project will be carried out in three strands. Strand A involves working with girls directly to improve their confidence and resilience in the subject. Strand B will be working with teachers of physics around teaching strategies and classroom management. Strand C will be looking at whole-school interventions to challenge and raise awareness of gender stereotyping in school culture. 

Announcing the investment, education minister Elizabeth Truss said: “The Institute of Physics has found that the difference between pupils falling in or out of love with physics is the teaching that they receive. That’s why I am delighted to continue funding the Stimulating Physics Network.

“Inspirational teaching, challenging stereotypes and getting young people excited about the huge potential of science is the best way to get more pupils studying it and going on to enjoy the higher wages these skills command.”

IoP president, Frances Saunders, added: “We’re delighted that the minister has agreed to continue to fund our highly successful programme. The schools that have participated in the SPN have driven much of the increase in the number of students sitting physics A level over the last few years, and we’re pleased to be able to promote this successful approach in an even greater number of schools.

“We’re also very excited to be piloting the Improving Gender Balance. We now have a real opportunity to find the solution to the chronic problem of too few girls studying physics, something which seriously limits girls’ choice of future careers.”

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