Mentoring for physics GCSE - Universities train students to support pupils

Students from five Welsh universities, including Swansea, are mentoring hundreds of pupils studying GCSE physics across Wales. The aim of the project is to increase physics take up at A-level, particularly among girls.

The work is led by Cardiff University alongside Aberystwyth University, Bangor University, Swansea University and the University of South Wales.

Students from the universities are being trained to support almost 240 Year 10 and 11 pupils.

Funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and backed by Welsh Government, the mentoring is taking place during spring and autumn 2019 and feature up to 12 schools.

The mentoring of girls will be a priority because they account for just 21.5% of physics A-Level entries in Wales, and less than two out of 10 full-time physics students in Welsh universities.

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Picture:  Hands-on experiments as part of the physics mentoring

The mentors are studying a broad range of subjects such as physics, astrophysics, computer games development and mechanical, aeronautical and electronic engineering.

The project will build upon the success of a Welsh Government-funded scheme in which pupils from across Wales are mentored in modern foreign languages using students from Welsh universities.

Project Lead Dr Chris North, from Cardiff University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said:

“Our aim is to increase the number of young people, particularly girls, choosing STEM subjects and physics post-16.

“We hope to boost their confidence and show that a physics qualification opens many doors.

“It’s so important for our country to encourage young people in this field as they will become the scientists who can help solve some of the great challenges facing our society in areas such as health, engineering and the environment.

“This is a great example of how the work of Welsh universities can directly benefit their communities as part of their ‘civic mission’.”

Dr Sarah Roberts of the College of Science, who leads the project for Swansea University, said:

“The Physics mentoring project has been a fantastic opportunity not just for the school pupils in Swansea who have taken part in this, but also for 2 of our Physics Undergraduate students who have been their mentors.

Engaging and encouraging pupils to take up Physics is a very important task, and we are proud of our students who have been involved in this endeavour. It’s great that we can help make a difference in the lives of young people in our local area."

Study physics at Swansea University

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Picture:  pupils from Islwyn High School, near Blackwood, conducting experiments

Mentor Isabelle Boreham, who is studying mechanical engineering at Cardiff University, said:

“Studying a STEM subject such as physics at A-level lays the foundation for a young person to play an important and key role in future society, whether it be through studying engineering, pure physics or any other STEM-related degree or apprenticeship.”

Teacher Lowri Evans, of Ysgol Bro Hyddgen in Machynlleth, Powys, said:

“The school is very proud to be able to take part in this exciting project, because the pupils will gain essential skills that will be important for them in the future.”

The Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams, said:

“Deepening and strengthening the links between Wales’s universities, their students and our schools is essential to the national mission to raise standards. Expanding undergraduate mentoring schemes in science, as well as languages and technology, is a key commitment in my progressive agreement with the First Minister.

“Such schemes are essential to enhancing universities’ civic engagement. That’s why we as a Government, through HEFCW, have invested in this exciting opportunity for students to share their knowledge, skills, and love of science and technology.

“Our universities have a special responsibility as stewards of their community. Getting more involved with schools, and making subjects such as physics as stimulating and engaging as possible, will help inspire and ignite passions that lead to new futures, new opportunities and new horizons for all our young people.

“I look forward to continue working with the Physics Mentoring Programme to break down any preconceived barriers and assumptions about STEM subjects, so that all our pupils can appreciate the opportunities and rewards that STEM study and careers can offer.”

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Picture: under the watchful eye of a student mentor, these Islwyn High pupils conduct an experiment 

Dr Alyson Thomas, Director of Policy and Funding at HEFCW, said:

“We can’t underestimate the positive impact of universities on future generations of scientists through schemes such as this one, and the experience that undergraduates will get from it.

“We hope that pupils of all ages will be enthused by taking part in the bilingual scheme, and we are particularly excited about the influence the student role models will have on girls interested in STEM subjects. This programme was a great fit for our civic mission fund, which encourages community engagement with schools.”

Amanda Wilkinson, Director of Universities Wales, said: “As a sector, we welcome the delivery of the Physics Mentoring Project. This innovative project builds upon the successful mentoring work universities have done in modern language and demonstrates the important and valuable contribution that universities make to schools and communities in Wales as part of their civic mission.”

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