Physics is about asking fundamental questions about the nature of the universe and then trying to answer them by observing and experimenting; it is a department fascinated by discovery.

Head of Physics: Mr Matthew Rivers

A passion for physics

Physicists are interested in the deep patterns relating matter and energy and the interactions between them. Exploration of physics often requires very sophisticated technology and often leads to fascinating and even mind-bending discoveries.

It is physicists, for example, who design and use particle accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN to discover new particles such as the Higgs boson, seen for the first time in 2013. It is physicists who developed the LIGO experiments that first detected gravitational waves, ripples in space-time itself, announced in 2016.

Physics includes the study of the amazing world of semiconductors and their applications, from the transistor at the heart of all of our computers to the photovoltaic panels that make an increasing fraction of our electricity; Physics includes Relativity, with its curved space-time and its famous mass-energy equation; it also includes Quantum Mechanics, whose ideas and experiments fundamentally challenge all of our common-sense notions of the nature of reality itself. Physics can be a thrilling intellectual ride!

Lower School curriculum

In the Lower School, girls are introduced to the basic concepts and vocabulary of the subject through studying ideas such as the behaviour of light, forces and electrical circuits. As with the other two sciences, experimental work is very important in Physics and we aim to teach as much as we can through practical activities. Over this two-year period, we will build on the knowledge and understanding that girls bring in from their previous schooling, cover the content of the Common Entrance syllabus and so prepare them for their GCSE course.

Upper School curriculum

In the Upper School, commencing in the Upper Fourth (Year 9), girls start the Edexcel International GCSE course in physics. They will study this for two periods per week in Upper Fourth and four periods per week in Lower Fifth (Year 10) and Upper Fifth (Year 11). This is a broad course that covers all the main branches of the subject and is examined by two papers at the end of Upper Fifth. Practical skills are taught and practised throughout the course and are assessed in the written papers alongside the more theoretical material.

Sixth Form curriculum

At Sixth Form, girls study for the OCR A Level. This is a two-year course which is examined entirely at the end. The content of this course is designed to balance pure scientific ideas with practical applications and it covers the whole spectrum of the subject in sufficient depth to challenge and stimulate each pupil’s intellect and imagination.

Full details of the curriculum are available in the GCSE and Sixth Form options publications whilst further information about the teaching and learning of physics at Downe House may be obtained by contacting the Head of Department, Matthew Rivers; Email:

Physics enrichment

Beyond the classroom, the Department offers further challenge and support to pupils through a number of activities. Each year, a team of our Lower Sixth girls participate very successfully in the Engineering Education Scheme, in which they work with an industrial partner to design and build a device to solve a real-life engineering problem. We also have a pupil-led Physics Society which gives the opportunity for extension through talks and experimental projects including electronics and astronomy and some of our girls participate successfully in the various competitions of the Physics Olympiad. Girls are also encouraged to attend science or engineering courses during their holidays to help them see more of these subjects in action and show them possibilities for future careers.

Open Mornings and Virtual Tours

The best way to find out more about Downe House is to experience it for yourself. We tailor our virtual Open Mornings and Virtual Tours to suit your family.