Physics for All – let’s get back to the ‘80s

12 September 2011

1989: The Berlin Wall fell, Chinese students revolted on Tiananmen Square, Harry met Sally, Jason and Kylie stormed the UK charts……… and a steady decline in the uptake of physics at A-level spread across UK schools, from which Northern Ireland has still not recovered.

Lampton Park School pupils

N. Ireland suffers from too few students choosing to take physics post-16 and that is why the Institute of Physics (IOP) is asking its members to help convince head teachers and school governing bodies to open up physics opportunities for all.

Launching ‘Physics for All’ today, Monday 12 September, at the British Science Festival in Bradford, the Institute of Physics (IOP) is highlighting the chronic shortage of specialist physics teachers in the UK and the number of students who are still deprived of the opportunity to engage with this most fundamental of twenty first century subjects.

Dr Robert Kirby-Harris, Chief Executive at the IOP, has announced, “The number of physics examination entrants needs to return to the level of 1980s – an ambitious target but an essential one, if we want to build an economy based on a highly-skilled, numerate and innovative workforce, and to provide the best opportunities for our young people.”

Sheila Gilheany, IOP’s Policy Officer in Ireland, adds, “A particular concern for N. Ireland is the lack of physics teachers in non-selective schools.”

IOP is encouraging its members, and everyone else who has an interest in physics education, to act as local ambassadors for physics in their relationship with their neighbourhood schools.

With an increasing amount of decision-making being devolved to individual schools, it’s imperative that parents, grandparents, volunteers and local governors pick up the baton for physics and press local educational leaders on the number of students entered for physics examinations, the proportion of girls taking physics and how many specialist physics teachers their local school employs.

To this end, IOP is publishing ‘prompt cards’ which contain key questions to ask local schools. Different versions are being provided for English, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh schools. 

Download a prompt card for you nation

Governments, businesses, learned societies and universities have all successfully stressed the need for more students to take ‘facilitating subjects’ like physics, and, as Dr Kirby-Harris says, “Now it looks as though the tide has turned. Numbers of A-level and Higher physics students continue to increase but I don’t believe that we can just sit back and say ‘job done’.”

IOP wants to see schools prioritise the provision of a good physics education to ensure students are not deprived of the opportunities an exciting foundation in the subject offers – we hope you can join us.



Related information

IOP's main website