A level results came out this week and the news for physics looks good, with the number of students taking the subject at AS level and full A level (i.e. AS + A2) continuing to climb.
In fact the figures show that for the past six years in succession, more and more students have been opting for physics, making it now one of the top ten A levels in terms of numbers taking it.
At this time of year it is perhaps unsurprising that such encouraging statistics have caught the attention of the national media (for example, see this interesting article on the BBC News website), and there has been much speculation as to possible reasons for the subject’s renaissance. Even the Institute of Physics concedes that it is hard to attribute this success to any single factor, but it highlights several possible causes, not least of which is the so-called ‘Brian Cox effect’ (and personally I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with that!).
Interestingly however, a national network supported by the Institute of Physics – the Stimulating Physics Network (SPN) – is being credited with having had a big hand in the steady upswing in student numbers.
Sadly there remains a woeful shortage of specialist physics teachers, with many of those teaching physics in schools holding degrees in other scientific disciplines and consequently lacking the confidence to inspire their students (the aforementioned BBC article states that ‘it could take at least 15 years to recruit enough physics graduates to ensure there are enough of them teaching in every school’). SPN’s remit is to work with non-specialist teachers in state schools to raise the standards of physics teaching and help inspire the next generation of physicists.
This clearly goes to show that having an experienced and qualified teacher, with a sufficiently broad and deep knowledge of their subject, is not to be underestimated when it comes to helping students to do well.
Hopefully greater numbers of A level physicists will eventually lead to the shortfall in physics teacher numbers being bridged and result in further success in years to come.