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Girls in Physics

An evening held twice per term during which two external female speakers working in a Physics-related field come and talk to the students about their research and career trajectories thus far. The evening is open to girls from all partnership schools as well as from Highgate, and each girl can bring a female guest if they choose.

The evening gives the girls a chance to hear from academics and researchers about what it is like to continue with physics beyond school, and even post-university, as well as opening their eyes to a number of fascinating areas in physics. The students also get an insight into what it is like being a woman in such a male-dominated field, and are often inspired to pursue with their study of physics at a higher level.

Aims

To inspire girls to pursue with their study of physics at the next level and highlight the wide range of career options in Physics and related fields.  

Identified Need:

There is a clear disparity between the number of female students opting to study Physics compared to their male peers. This pattern emerges early in schooling and becomes more stark at increasing levels of education.

Only around 20% of A Level Physics students are girls and this number has remained largely static in the last three decades (http://www.iop.org/education/teacher/support/girls_physics/page_41593.html), despite there being very little gender difference in take up of and achievement in STEM GCSE subjects (https://www.jcq.org.uk/examination-results/gcses/2017). If current trends continue, key targets to ensure increased female take-up of Physics, Engineering and Technology subjects will be missed (http://www.ncub.co.uk/reports/talent-2030-dashboard-2015.html)

21% of students who studied physics at a higher education level in the UK 2009/10 were women (IOP annual review 2012), and the percentage of girls taking physics A-level in the UK in 2018 was 22.2% (IOP statistics). While this latter figure does represent an overall increase from 2015, it is a much slower rate of increase than that of male students.

It is clear that a lack of female role models and established career trajectories, along with traditional gender stereotypes, contributes to the lack of female take-up of these subjects.

CFS

The project in its current form relies on the work of two members of staff. One female Physics teacher is responsible for the recruitment of speakers and running of the evening event. One additional member of staff is responsible for the administration and logistics of the event, including recruiting and managing attendees, booking venues and arranging catering, amongst other tasks. These two roles could feasibly be carried out by the same individual.

Access to a network of female Physicists and Engineers from which to recruit speakers.

A large hall or presentation room in which talks take place. An ability to provide light catering for guests.

Beneficiaries

Girls from year 7-13 who will be encouraged and inspired to continue with their study of physics and look into the possibility of studying it at a higher level.

Any guests who attend who will also be inspired to encourage the student they accompanied with their study of physics.

Background

The need for this project was identified by looking at the national picture of girls studying physics at GCSE level and beyond. It was found that not enough girls nationally study A-level physics: only 22.2% of students taking A-level physics in 2018 were girls (IOP data) and therefore very small numbers continue to study physics at undergraduate level at university. This consequently contributes to the gender disparity in science professions. There is a severe reduction in the number of GCSE physics and those taking A-level physics and beyond. A lack of role models in this field could be a contributing factor to this. Therefore this project aims to provide a solution to this problem by inviting female physicists, who can act as role models to the girls and inspire them to study physics at a higher level. This opportunity was first identified by Emma Russo, a physics teacher at Highgate School, and now has an established format delivered by the Highgate Physics department. 2018-19 is the fourth year in which these events have been running.  

Resources

In its current format the event makes use of an event space with audio-visual equipment. Additionally, catering is supplied internally to provide light refreshments and finger food.

Resources from the Institute of Physics can also be ordered prior to the event and distributed at the event (ie. Flyers, information booklets, stationary).

The physics teacher who invited the speakers will need to be present to introduce the evenings and help to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

The Physics teacher involved in the project is allocated one period for fortnight throughout the school year to facilitate this work. Additionally, administration is provided by a Chrysalis Fellow, a salaried member of staff employed to work solely on partnership projects. Alternatively, a single member of staff would be able to run this project with a larger allocation. The sole additional cost to deliver the event is covering the travel expenses of speakers.

Impact

We routinely analyse attendance to ensure that girls known from either other partnership projects or from previous Girls in Physics events take part, as we believe students will derive most impact from attending multiple events.

Attendees are surveyed about how the event has impacted their view of studying Physics after each event.

Pupil Involvement

The event is also open to Highgate pupils, therefore there are usually slightly more Highgate school pupils than partner school pupils (40:60 split). However participants come from all partner schools across London.  The pupils can be in any year from 7-13, although the majority of participants are in Years 11, 12 and 13. All the participants are female.

Frequency

This activity occurs twice per term (once every half term) and runs 5.00 pm – 7.00 pm. The event has been receiving outstanding feedback ever since it started running, and is likely to continue for as long as a physics teacher is able to help with its organisation.