Physics is predominantly old, white, male and privileged. This is visible in our universities and physics-based businesses, as well as physics in the public eye. This perception of the physics community limits the numbers of young people from diverse backgrounds thinking: “I can be a physicist”.
What can we do to make a career in physics an attractive and realistic opportunity for young people from more diverse backgrounds? At the Institute of Physics we believe widespread access to knowledgeable, confident and experienced teachers of physics means a more dynamic education and passionate role models for budding young physicists. That is why we have developed a nationwide Future Physics Leaders (FPL) programme, delivering professional development and support for specialist and nonspecialist teachers in deprived schools and areas in England.
We are recruiting schools in 108 local authority districts identified by the Department of Education as priority areas: that is, areas particularly in need of education support as determined by the “achieving excellence areas” methodology. Our programme of development and support will be provided in a number of regional hubs, where a lead school will be partnered with a number of other schools to promote collaboration and cross-organisational learning between teachers, supported by locally based IOP staff. You can find out more about what it means to be a lead or partner school on the FPL pages of the main IOP site.
We know that physics teaching in the UK suffers from a shortage of specialist physics teachers. More than a third of physics teachers don’t hold a degree in the subject. We also know that deprived schools suffer disproportionately from high teacher turnover; the poorest 20% of schools are more likely to find a teacher moving schools or leaving the profession than the richest 20% of schools. We need to find ways to encourage people to teach physics, and to continue to teach physics in priority areas for extended periods of time.
Alongside the recruitment of more teachers, and paying teachers more, initiatives like Future Physics Leaders are vital to solving this crisis. Providing teachers with the support and development to teach their subject with knowledge and confidence helps to improve job satisfaction and teacher retention, and for teachers engaged in such initiatives, provides opportunities for career progression.
For students, the benefits are clear: continued exposure to focused, dynamic lessons delivered by more knowledgeable and confident teachers will directly influence more young people from more diverse backgrounds to get excited by physics, pursue it at higher education, and eventually enter physics-related careers.
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