Kerrie Finley, Head of Physics at RHS

Inspirational Woman: Kerrie Finley | Head of Physics, Royal Hospital School

Kerrie Finley, Head of Physics at RHS

Kerrie Finley is the Head of Physics at Royal Hospital School. Kerrie started teaching science in 2007 in a mixed comprehensive in St Albans, Hertfordshire, and was appointed as Head of Science in 2009.

Originally Kerrie was a biologist, but retrained to be a physics teacher as there was a shortage. Kerrie taught her first A-level physics lesson in 2012. Kerrie was appointed as the only physics teacher to a school in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, in 2018, and was Acting Head of Science from 2020 to 2021. Kerrie was appointed as Head of Physics at RHS in 2021.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am the Head of Physics at Royal Hospital School in Ipswich, Suffolk. I started teaching science in 2007 in a mixed comprehensive in St Albans, Hertfordshire, and was appointed as Head of Science in 2009. I was originally a biologist but retrained to be a physics teacher as there was a shortage. I taught my first A-level physics lesson in 2012. After a short career break to have children (two daughters), I was appointed in 2018 as the only physics teacher to a school in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, and was Acting Head of Science from 2020 to 2021. I was then appointed as Head of Physics at RHS in 2021.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a teacher, as I was the eldest of four and would encourage my siblings to ‘play schools’ during the school holiday! My love of science developed in year 7 where I had my first experience in a laboratory using microscopes and Bunsen burners. Miss Taylor (my teacher) was so enthusiastic about the subject; I couldn’t help but enjoy studying it. Double A* at GCSE set me up to study all three sciences at A level and although I struggled with physics the most, perhaps due to the lack of females in class, I excelled at biology and chose to study BSc Biology at Southampton, which led to a PGCE in secondary science, and then whilst working full time a Masters Degree in Leading learning from Hertfordshire University. It was during this time I was asked to teach A level physics; I was lucky to secure a year long placement on a physics knowledge enhancement course run by the science learning centre. This is where my passion for physics returned, and I have been developing my teaching of the subject over the last 10 years!

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

It is always a challenge teaching outside of your degree specialism but my love of the subject and dedication to fine tuning my pedagogy has helped. I find it easier to help the students when they are struggling because I remember those same struggles when faced with complex mechanics and multi-step calculations myself. I don’t want any student, particularly the rare few girls I am lucky to teach, to feel they are being left to struggle alone.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Having an article I have written, on the importance of female science teachers and their role in getting more girls into STEM subjects, being published in an educational magazine.

Being a teacher and Head of Physics, how do you think we can attract more girls into STEM subjects?

We have to celebrate the success of females in STEM. Whether that be through showcasing women enjoying the subject, inviting other inspirational women in STEM to talk to the students and/or sharing their stories of success.

Recreation of image of Marie Curie by Kerrie FinleyWe’re firm believers in ‘you can’t be, what you can’t see’ – so tell us who are your role models in the industry?

More of an inspiration than a role model is Marie Curie. I am in awe of the work she was able to carry out at the time she did. I recreated a photograph of her recently for a campaign at school where we celebrated women in STEM.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in STEM, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

There are some barriers still, a year 11 student said to me last year that she would be thought of as ‘weird’ if she picked physics to study, but she has gone on to study maths. I intend to keep promoting a positive example of women in STEM. Starting with the younger students and outreach at primary school would help.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in STEM?

Work placements aimed at women, sponsorships, flexible hours, talks and events from inspirational women in STEM.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are three platforms I would suggest. The first is A Mighty Girl which offers a large collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls. The second is Girls Do STEM Too... - Stemettes ®, which is an award-winning social enterprise working to inspire and support young women in STEM, and finally, The XX Factor/Neon Futures, which is an event showcasing women in STEM who have done incredible things.