What is the Physics Factory?

The Physics Factory Project is a grass roots movement that aims to take action on the decline of physics in British schools and universities with its resulting damage to Britain's competitiveness in a technological world.

The Physics Factory will increase the appeal and take up of physics in schools and help vulnerable physics departments to a more secure future.

The core idea, which has drawn widespread support, is to concentrate high quality resources in one place, the 'Factory', for the benefit of all schools in the area. The siting of a 'Factory' is critical. It needs to be within easy reach of a number of schools where there exists the drive to increase the appeal of physics and a readiness to cooperate.

Two pilot projects have started, one in Birmingham and one in London. A third is being developed in Reading. The most urgent need now is to put the funding for these on a more substantial footing.

Core principles that underpin the project:

FIRST, each Physics Factory is largely autonomous (on the principle that top down initiatives rarely work) with local enthusiasts responding to local needs and pressures in the way that
seems best;

SECOND, participating schools will be strengthening the capacity of their departments and teachers, not denuding them;

THIRD, teachers will be part of a team - supported and not undermined;

FOURTH, the 'factory' will complement other initiatives rather than compete with them;

FIFTH, the project will support national educational priorities.

Continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers is at the heart of the project. Teachers from participating schools will experience different teaching and learning styles in an environment that will allow them to develop their own strengths and capacities. It is intended that this team experience will be a shot in the arm for physics teaching that is currently at risk because of poor take-up of the subject.

The team

Jim Whittell
Physics Factory originator

Trained as a physicist, Jim Whittell founded the Physics Factory project in November 2006 following a plea from The Royal Society on BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme for action to halt the decline of physics in schools. Before that he worked for the British Council for 26 years, of which 12 were spent overseas. Whilst in London, he served as Secretary to the Council, was responsible for the Council's operations in Europe and was seconded to Prime Minister Thatcher's Efficiency Unit for a scrutiny of a major part of the British Council's work. He was made an OBE in 1984 and CMG in 1998. On retirement in 1999 he founded the Interstate Programme, an annual event in Brussels enabling students from top business schools in the US and Europe to debate current global and trans-Atlantic issues with EC policy makers.

John Booth
Secondary Science Adviser at Birmingham City Council
Founded the Physics Factory in Birmingham by thinking up with a model which brings together the need for specialist teacher training and extended provision for GCSE Physics in neghbouring schools.

David Perks
Head of Physics, Graveney School, London
Founded the Physics Factory in London.

I have been a physics teacher in state secondary schools in Britain since 1987. I currently run a successful physics department at Graveney School a comprehensive school in Tooting, South West London. I am a passionate defender of academic science education. I wrote a highly critical response to the new GCSE science curriculum "What is science education for?" I came up with the original idea for the Institute of Ideas Debating Matters competition now a highly successful schools debating competiton. I write regularly on science and education.


The Institute supports the Physics Factory because it represents an exciting and innovative experiment in attracting more students to study physics in the short term and in the long term developing good teachers which is the key to ensuring the future of physics in schools.

Dr Robert Kirby-Harris, Chief Executive of the Institute of Physics

An idea like The Physics Factory is long overdue. It is a bold and innovative way of focusing the limited but precious resources available for physics teaching in order to ignite the flame of scientific curiosity in the next generation of students. Without an increase in the numbers of students studying physics, I genuinely fear or the future of our economy. The Physics Factory deserves and has my strongest possible support.

Brian Cox, Professor of Particle Physics Manchester University

At Newman University College we are very excited to be working with the Physics Factory on the delivery of our Physics subject enhancement course. We are looking forward to developing a close working relationship with the physics factory as we continue to strengthen our science teacher training provision.

Adrian Warhurst, Senior Lecturer in Science Education, Newman University College

The Physics Factory Project is an imaginative and innovative concept for addressing the current shortage of specialist physics teachers in many schools. We now need it piloted over two to three years to see if it works. I hope it does.

Lord Rees, Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal Society


for us... this is the right idea at the right time... We are keen to share our expertise. We have the space and motivation, and have already overcome most of the logistical problems inherent in getting neighbouring schools to co-operate. We work hand in glove with these schools and believe we can make a real difference to the perceptions children have of physics.

David Wheeldon, Headmaster, King Edward VI Five Ways School, Birmingham

The Physics Factory is exactly the sort of grass roots initiative we want to encourage. It harnesses the enthusiasm and ability of physics teachers, and it holds out the prospect of a better understanding of physics amongst students that our country so badly needs.

Nick Gibb MP, Shadow Minister for Schools

I never dreamt that the Today programme I presented from The Royal Society some 30 months ago would have spawned the Physics Factory movement. This grass roots initiative that excites both teachers and children is exactly what we need to counter the drift to soft subjects. Physics and other 'hard' subjects are far too important to be abandoned as lost causes. The Physics Factories deserve to succeed and deserve our support: financial and, dare I say it, political.

John Humphreys, BBC Radio 4 Today presenter

Students in schools need to see physics as relevant to their own lives and potentially offering them a future career direction rather than simply a collection of facts to be learnt and regurgitated for exams. A Physics Factory can fill that gap.

Professor Averil Macdonald, Professor of Science Engagement, University of Reading

Like so many science departments around the country, we have Biologists teaching Physics! It looks like the Physics factory will go a long way towards improving our situation. My staff have returned from training enthused, more confident and armed with lots of 'tricks' to enhance teaching and learning. Not only have they praised the quality of the training they received but they also had a lot of fun!

Paul Coley, Head of Science, George Dixon International School

Developing the Physics Factory at Graveney is already part of our strategy for Building Schools for the Future and is a key component of our plans to strengthen our offer at A-level. We relish the opportunity to expand our capacity and become a lead player in the project to revitalise physics teaching nationally.

Graham Stapleton, Principal, Graveney School

Pearson are acutely aware of the problems surrounding physics - and, together with MIT in the United States, we have produced some innovative self access materials to address the problem there. We applaud this important experiment and are delighted to be involved with the pilot schemes.

Sir David Bell, Director of Pearson and Chairman of the Financial Times

  • Sir David Bell Director, Pearson Group
  • Daniel Sandford Smith Education Manager, Institute of Physics
  • Charlie Stripp Programme Leader, Further Maths Network
  • Professor Tim Brighouse Advisor to DCFS,
  • Dr Sally Preston Director, Science Learning Centre, Durham
  • Marianne Cutler Head of Curriculum Development, Association for Science Education
  • Professor Hugh Lawlor , Advisor to DCFS
  • Marc Bloch Senior Publisher, Pearson Education
  • Tristan Wilkinson Director Public Sector, Intel Corporation
  • Professor John Holman Director, National Science Learning Centre
  • Richard Browne Programme Leader, Further Maths Network
  • Professor Michael Reiss , The Institute of Education
  • Mark Homer Head of Physics, Burntwood School
  • Bill Bouskill Secondary Strategy Manager, Wandsworth LA
  • Stephen Cox General Secretary, The Royal Society
  • Erica Tyson Training Manager (Engineering), Rolls-Royce
  • Dr John Williams , Gatsby Foundation
  • John Johnson Assistant Director Children's Services, Wandsworth LA
  • Mike Cole , Science Learning Centre, Durham
  • Adam Tedd Head of Science, Burntwood School


 This is the feedback we receive from teachers who bring their classes to the Physics Factories:

 Todd Specht, Lab Technician, Waverley School

Kathryn Farrah, Head of Science, Lordswood Girls' School