Dagenham school club setting out to show girls can do physics too

A Dagenham school is working hard to encourage more girls to take physics at A-level, as a recent study shows nearly half of all state schools in England do not send any female pupils to study the subject post GCSE.

Sydney Russell School, in Parsloes Avenue, set up a Women in Physics group last September open to 11 to 16-year-olds.

Following its launch the A-level physics uptake rose from two girls in 2011 to nine this year. It is hoped the numbers will continue to grow in the coming years.

Earlier this month the Institute of Physics (IOP) released research which showed 49 per cent of the country’s state co-educational schools did see a single girl study the science at A-level.

The IOP has since urged the government to set targets to boost the numbers from the current national average of one in five.

Sydney Russell physics teacher Dominik Golinski said students in the Women in Physics club initially focused on finding out why so few girls were choosing to study physics at A-level and degree level.

“They went around and asked other pupils what their views were,” he said. “Those they spoke to said they didn’t have any issues with girls or women studying or working in physics. But many felt that it was a male subject and many of the girls just didn’t even consider the fact they would study it.”

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“I think in this country we’ve generally moved away from viewing subjects as gendered, but not it seems physics.”

After carrying out their survey the club, with support from the IOP, invited a number of representatives from the science community to listen to the pupils talk about their findings and their own views on the issue.

“This year the girls will carry on looking at the reasons behind the lack of uptake,” Dominik explained, “but they will also look at successful female physicists, carry out experiments, and hopefully go on physics related trips.”

“The students themselves have asked for all of this. We’ve made sure that they are the ones deciding how the club is run. We want them to enjoy it and hopefully this will encourage more carry on with the subject after their GCSEs.”

Sixth former Kathryn Coldham took part in the club last year and is now in her first year of A-level physics.

The 16-year-old, who plans to study physics at university, said many girls were put off from studying the science because they don’t want to be viewed as a “stereotypical female physicist - frumpy and nerdy”.

She added: “It is also believed that boys tend to perform better in physics, making girls feel that they will be unable to compete against them for university or job placements.

“There have been great improvements in the attitudes towards female physicists over the last century but there is still a long way to go.”

Year 7 student Leigh-Anne Robinson, 11, joined the club last month because she “really likes physics”.

“It’s really interesting,” she told the Post. “I like finding out how things work.”

Leigh-Anne, who hopes to be a scientist one day, said she believes girls assume they will not be any good at the subject. “I think girls think that maybe it’s too difficult,” she told the Post. “Also when you think of a scientist you think of a man not a woman, so many girls can’t see themselves in that job. I can though and I wouldn’t care if there were only boys on my course .”