CEO’S BLOG: How do we get more girls into science?

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Fiona Spellman, Chief Executive of SHINE, recognises the need to focus our attentions much earlier to get more girls to succeed in STEM subjects. 

The under representation of females in STEM careers is a major problem, not just for education but crucially for our economy too. As this excellent article argues, if half of the population isn’t contributing to the best ideas, then they can’t be, in fact, the best ideas. As we enter the fourth industrial revolution, STEM has never been more important, and we need to leverage the best of all our talents and skills in this crucial sector.

The issue is well known amongst employers and indeed there are a number of schemes already in place which aim to raise awareness of STEM careers for women. So why aren’t we seeing an uplift in representation? My view is that we need to be providing support earlier if we are to see a sustained impact.

Research shows that children begin to form their occupational aspirations within primary school. At the age of 6 – 8 years, naïve early understandings turn them towards some possible futures and away from others. From the ages of 9 to 13 children further limit the number of possible occupations; for being a different gender, the wrong level, or being beyond their capabilities.

The transition from primary to secondary school is a particular challenge in science, as the offer within primary schools varies widely and teachers do not routinely collaborate on pedagogy and curriculum across the divide. Upper KS2 in many primary schools is often characterised by a rigid focus on maths and English, since these from the basis for school accountability measures. In this context, science teaching during year six can be seriously constrained or even squeezed out altogether.

As a result, many science teachers in KS3 do not have a sufficient picture of what the children have already learned at primary school, and therefore they tend to deliver lessons which re-teach content which at least some of the children already know.

Facing a less challenging curriculum for science at KS3, many students are turned off from science just as they are beginning to make important decisions about their future lives. By the time they typically begin hearing about any kind of careers advice, the science route has too often already been closed off.

At SHINE, we support innovations in science education which can change this, helping girls and children from other under represented groups to boost their confidence in science and experience success. Achieve in Science and Space Camps were both created by passionate teachers who took the initiative to apply for funding through Let Teachers SHINE.

We’re on the lookout again for new ideas to boost attainment and confidence in science, so, if you know a teacher who wants to make a difference, please encourage them to apply.

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