Chemistry is a physical science that introduces a toolkit for investigating and understanding the world around us.
If you want to understand and maybe even fix today’s major problems, you need some chemistry. The challenges posed by climate change, energy storage and pandemics affect us all, but people who can understand and practise chemistry can do something about them. There is also deep satisfaction in simply finding out how the physical world works.
The department goes a long way towards promoting enrichment within the subject, through wide-ranging digressions from examined material, the inclusion of extensive and rigorous practical work, and perhaps most importantly for preparing pupils for later study in many fields, through regular, high-level problem solving. The effectiveness of the last point is emphasised by the Eighth Formers’ (Year 12 and 13) exceptional results in the RSC Olympiad (Lower and Upper Eighth) and the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge (Lower Eighth only) competitions. Both competitions expose pupils to the type of problem-based work that is the mainstay of any kind of science degree. Pupils are pushed well beyond the familiar, and often beyond where their base of knowledge can help them, to a place where grit and clear thought are the keys to success.
All pupils study Chemistry with a view to sitting IGCSE Chemistry (Edexcel 4CH1). The course covers a wide range of Chemistry, with plenty of opportunity for practical work, and provides a very solid foundation from which to transfer to further study with confidence.
Nearly half the year group studies chemistry at A Level, following the OCR A syllabus.
The Chemistry Projects Club runs weekly in the autumn and spring terms. Senior pupils undertake a course of undergraduate-level synthetic organic chemistry. This not only gives them a flavour of what university lab work would be like, but also enhances their practical skills beyond recognition. Some pupils from the club also go on to become demonstrators for the Year 12 outreach programme that we run during the spring term, helping pupils from state schools from all over London to undertake chemical projects.
Our Junior Projects Club runs weekly throughout the year for all three year groups. Pupils from the club enter the annual RSC Top of the Bench competition, a set of practical challenges against the clock and other schools. In 2023, our team finished 3rd in the National Finals of this competition. We also enter the National Scientific Thinking Challenge each year, winning 15 awards in 2023.
The RSC Chemistry Olympiad and Cambridge Chemistry Challenge figure prominently in what we do and help greatly to normalise the tackling of difficult problems: once you start looking at tough stuff in this way, it becomes less intimidating and much more of an open opportunity. In the last year, Paulines have won 234 awards, including 81 golds, in these competitions. The Chemistry Problem Solving Club is a pupil-led society, which tackles Olympiad-style problems in the spring and summer terms. We also enter the Chemistry Race each year where pupils work as a team to solve a set of theoretical problems against the clock and other schools.