The Stimulating Physics Programme ran from May 2006 to July 2009. The core aims were to find ways of increasing the numbers of students taking physics at A-level and progressing onto a degree in physics. The Programme was split into two distinct but complementary strands:
- the ‘Access’ strand was concerned with improving the accessibility and marketability of physics-based degrees to students who do not traditionally study the subject at higher education level;
- the ‘Demand’ strand was concentrated on a cluster of schools chosen to match the target group, with the intention of piloting activities designed to increase students’ motivation to continue with physics to A-level and beyond.
The aims of this strand were to:
- ease the transition from school to university physics;
- provide additional career development for talented and highly motivated physics teachers;
- promote physics degree programmes effectively and make universities better aware of student interests and use this information to facilitate course design;
- improve the marketing of courses to ensure that universities are making their courses as appealing as possible to students;
- improve the attractiveness of undergraduate physics degrees, especially to potential students from under-represented groups, such as girls and students from lower socio-economic groups and non-traditional backgrounds;
- develop a route into Higher Education physics for those students living in regions where there are no local HEIs that provide undergraduate physics;
- develop broadly based science degree courses that will prepare graduates with a sufficient grounding in physics to enter a wide range of scientific, commercial and professional employment sectors.
The objectives of the strand were to:
- develop close working links between university departments and teachers;
- make the transition from school to undergraduate level physics easier for students and make university lecturers aware of what is expected of students following various A level programmes of study;
- engage in a dialogue regarding teaching and learning at undergraduate level;
- develop, introduce and market a new type of physics-based degree programme;
- offer alternative entry routes for individuals who do not have the traditional entry qualifications to undertake an undergraduate degree in physics or a physics-related subject;
- promote physics degree programmes effectively;
- repackage physics degree courses to make them more marketable, while maintaining standards.
The access strand consisted of three elements: the appointment of Teacher Fellows, the development of new degree structures, and the repackaging of courses. Two of these projects are being developed further through the National HE STEM Programme: the New Degree and Repackaged Degree.
The demand strand of Stimulating Physics delivered intervention- based activities in participating schools in three regions of England: Leeds, Nottinghamshire and Oxford. These schools matched particular target groups, with the aim of increasing student motivation to take physics, firstly at A Level, and then at university.
Activities in this strand were directed at teacher development, and on students’ better understanding of physics, with the aim of motivating them to pursue it further. Understanding science in the real world was achieved through careers advice, career simulations and industrial visits. Students were also encouraged to take part in e-mentoring with undergraduate physics students acting as mentors.
Measures of success
- Increased numbers studying A level physics in partner schools, in particular.
- improved student attitudes towards physics in years 9,10 and11;
- improved awareness of careers from physics;
- improvement in teacher knowledge, confidence and enjoyment of teaching physics.