Emma Russo

South Hampstead High School, London, UK

@EmmaMayLondon

Emma Russo

Emma’s ambition in teaching has focused on creating and promoting opportunities for girls in physics and engineering. Only 9% of engineers in the UK are female, and in secondary education, very few girls study Physics for A Level. This is partly because in the UK, “engineer” is often used as a crossover term for a mechanic; it is not a subject that is taught in schools, and there is a cultural perception that it is not something for girls. There is also very little understanding of what careers in engineering now consist of, and the broad spectrum of disciplines with which they intersect.

Emma got into teaching while still a university student, after studying a module called “Physics into Schools”. After running a weekly physics club with 10-year-olds she realised that she enjoyed having an impact on young people’s lives, and subsequently applied for the two-year Teach First programme where graduates train as teachers in some of the country’s most challenging schools. The students that she worked with often had extremely low aspirations, and many had a lack of family or community support. However, Emma was amazed by how rewarding it was when science students finally understood the workings of something they had encountered in everyday life. As a result she moved to a school with very experienced physics teachers, in order to develop herself as an outstanding physics educator. At this school, Emma grew to understand the barriers that girls face in continuing to study physics or engineering in higher education. Capable, interested girls were not continuing with the subject because of cultural attitudes around them and a lack of understanding about where physics could take them.

In response, three years ago Emma created “Girls in Physics” – a termly event where girls from across London are invited with their female parents or guardians to hear from female researchers or industry professionals in physics or engineering. The speakers share their personal and professional journey as well as their experience of being female and often the minority voice in that space. Emma has since managed to grow these events so that some have had over 120 people attending. In her teaching, she has also succeeded in growing students’ confidence as well as their grades – with one class achieving 100% A-A* grades in Physics. Since many students see science as interesting but largely irrelevant to their lives, Emma always tries to ground every lesson in a real-world connection or everyday experience.

If awarded the Global Teacher Prize, Emma would fund programmes to support more girls into further study of physics and engineering. She would also develop Girls in Physics into something that schools could run nationally, and extend the reach of her Education Passport podcast amongst teachers.