Royal Society funds LJMU partnership with schoolgirl ‘researchers’

Go-getting school girls hope to springboard into top science careers by undertaking their own research with Liverpool John Moores University. 

The 13-year-olds from Liverpool’s Holly Lodge Girls’ College want to investigate why fewer girls, when compared with boys, take part in PE and sport at a young age. By secondary school 23% of girls do not participate in any physical activity outside of school and by 14, girls are dropping out of sport at twice the rate of boys. 

To try and examine this question the girls are teaming up with world-class sport and exercise scientists at LJMU to find out about PE research and how it can help all girls at their school and others. 

The university team hope to work with the girls to help them overcome barriers to their physical activity participation,” explained LJMU’s Dr Tori Sprung, project team member and strategic lead for equity, diversity, and inclusivity 

“By actively examining their own data and the links between physical activity and health, the girls can begin to understand their relationship with sport and physical activity”. 

Pupils will be invited to the university throughout the year-long project, to use the world-class laboratories and consult with academic experts in physiology, biomechanics, sport and exercise psychology and nutrition. 

The girls have already proposed several ideas including collecting and analysing fitness data, carrying out surveys of PE engagement across the school, conducting focus groups to discuss the barriers and enablers of participation and designing an intervention programme to increase the girls’ engagement with activities. 

They aim to use pedometers, mobile phone apps and other technologies to measuring performance, heart rate, and more. In keeping with the formal process of research, the girls will present written reports, ‘papers’ and posters to explain their lab and field work. 

Headteacher at Holly Lodge Andy Keen, who is supporting the project with science teacher Sarah Sung, said: “This is a project by girls, for girls, and a chance to develop teamwork and communication skills, as well as helping the girls grow in confidence. By sharing their learning with their peers, we hope it will encourage all pupils to be more active and pursue the sciences at GCSE level. We are really excited for the students to have this opportunity.” 

The project entitled ‘How do we promote physical activity in girls? A research project with girls, for girls and by girls is funded by the Royal Society, to promote women and girls in science careers’. 

Professor Sir James Hough FRS, chair of the Royal Society Partnership grants allocating panel said: “This is an excellent project, looking at the relationship between physical fitness and health and the barriers to participation. As well as the engaging topic matter, it will, just as importantly, enable students to gain experience in data handling and statistical analysis providing a useful benchmark for other schools to follow” 

“The partnership between Holly Lodge College and Liverpool John Moores University seems to be one that will be sustained in the future and the Royal Society Partnership grants allocating panel are very keen to see how this project progresses.” 

Added Dr Sprung: “Projects like these are important to give young women insight into science as a field, and not just how it looks in the classroom. Furthermore, we hope to challenge bias and stereotypes as our team is predominantly women, to show the girls role models in their own image.”

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