Engaging under-represented groups with physics



Experts from scientific societies, universities, schools, charities and businesses gathered at the Institute of Physics today, 20 November, to discuss the challenges of engaging under-represented groups in physics.
Following a review of literature and school-based projects – devised to trial methods for engaging greater numbers of students from both lower-socio-economic-status groups and ethnic minorities with physics – the IOP held a morning workshop to discuss findings and devise a roadmap for future activity.

The meeting began with an introductory keynote presentation from Dr Claire Crawford, a research fellow of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and assistant professor of economics at the University of Warwick, on the gaps between different socio-economic groups in higher education.

Her presentation highlighted stark gaps in participation rates and levels of attainment between the lowest and highest socio-economic groups. Those in the most advantaged group are more than eight times more likely to take physics A-level than those in the least advantaged group, and 20 times more likely to get an A grade or higher at physics A-level than those in the least advantaged group.

As Dr Crawford commented in questions after her statistical presentation, “It shouldn’t be about trying to make sure everyone goes to university but it is about ensuring a level playing field regardless of your socio-economic status”.

Dr Crawford was followed by the IOP’s education adviser, Professor Peter Main, who detailed the findings of the two school-based projects – working with students from low socio-economic status and minority ethnic groups, respectively – that the IOP has managed in order to explore ways of increasing engagement with physics.

Professor Main highlighted a range of factors that the IOP suggests guide students towards studying subjects like physics, from the prior attainment of the students in the schools that the IOP worked with, to the commitment and knowledge of both schools and parents. He also gave thanks to the Sarah Watt Foundation, which provided a donation to enable one of the IOP’s school-based projects.

The full range of findings from the projects and literature review can be found in a selection of new publications.

On the IOP’s work to engage students from low socio-economic backgrounds:

Raising Aspirations in Physics: Recommendations from a review of research

Raising Aspirations in Physics: A review of research

Raising Aspirations in Physics: A school case study

On the IOP’s work to engage students from ethnic minorities:

Opportunities from Physics: Interventions in a multi-ethnic school to increase post-16 participation