In September last year, the Bohunt Education Trust (BET) introduced one of the UK’s first ever industry-supported Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) curricula, and it’s already proving to have positive effects.
Much is made of the STEM skills shortage among young people across the country – a recent CBI study found around 40% of firms looking for staff with STEM skills had difficulties recruiting.
BET seeks to proactively change that by creating the pipeline that leads to the UK creating more world-class STEM professionals. However, it’s not just about the quantity of engineers, it’s also about the quality; they must have the skills, attitudes and values that make them stand out in a global talent market.
From the outset, the problem with STEM education in the UK seemed to us to be fairly clear – we weren’t inspiring enough students to take an interest in STEM careers and the issue was manifesting itself in two ways:
- The tradition has been to relegate STEM lessons to after school clubs, an optional extra and typically taken up by those students who would be keen on pursuing the subjects further anyway.
- Companies have tended to focus their STEM education on one-off ‘inspiration’ events. These efforts are, of course, well-intentioned but only seemed to inspire pockets of students and have done little to alter out-of-date attitudes towards the subjects.
That’s why we took a very different approach and began developing industry partnerships, so we could work with companies and together deliver STEM lessons as part of the regular timetable.
The culmination of three years of hard work came in September when we introduced one of the UK’s first school-led STEM curricula at Bohunt School in Hampshire – The Times Educational Supplement’s School of the Year for 2014.
Our partners – including the likes of Siemens and Surrey Satellites Technology Limited (SSTL) – helped devise lesson plans, deliver workshops and provide one-to-one mentorship to students who show a particular interest in pursuing a future career in STEM.
As the curriculum involves all students aged 11 to 14, everyone is given the chance to see whether a career in STEM might be for them. For those who aren’t interested in pursuing the subjects further, it gives them invaluable experience developing key skills like communication and teamwork on ‘real-life’ projects, which will help prepare them for the world of work – whatever their career might be.
All students should leave secondary school STEM literate as well as STEM aware.
Our model is scalable too. Once the projects have been tested with our students, they will be made available to education providers across the UK to use – meaning companies can reach even more young people.
This also applies to Bohunt School Worthing and Priory in Portsmouth, where we are looking for industry partners to follow the lead of firms like Siemens and SSTL in helping us to introduce our STEM curriculum.
Mutually beneficial relationship
As well as bringing to life what a future career might really be like, students get the chance to work on a variety of projects, combining elements of the four disciplines. For example, graduates from Siemens work with pupils on a Green Cities challenge, where they design an environmentally sustainable city for the future.
This involves skills from across the STEM spectrum, from technical drawing, to understanding the causes of climate change and solving mathematical equations. The students, of course, get a great deal out of working with our partners and the companies do too.
Tony Holt, SSTL’s engineering director has been hugely supportive and notes: “We are delighted to be associated with Bohunt Education Trust. We fully endorse the innovative curriculum they have introduced and the excellent work it’s doing in order to encourage more young people to take up careers in STEM.”
The partnerships don’t necessarily mean a huge time commitment on their part as most of the work is done by the school and leads to numerous win-win outcomes. Examples include company employees developing communication skills by giving workshops, the recruiting of apprentices and high impact CSR through mentoring of students that show high aptitude and motivation.
Audrey Bowie, a project manager at Siemens, has delivered workshops at Bohunt School and has mentored students too: “If I can inspire one student to learn more about the world around them, or better still, encourage them onto a career path where they are designing and building the future, I’m happy.”
A woman’s world
Bowie’s inspirational work has inspired many of our female students at Bohunt School. As part of Siemens’ Women’s Network, she is particularly keen on encouraging more girls to pursue an interest in engineering.
While there’s a STEM skills shortage generally, the challenge of encouraging more girls to pursue STEM subjects is greater – just 13% of the UK’s STEM workforce is female.
Siemens’ and BET’s aims to produce more female engineers are closely aligned; geared towards encouraging more girls to study STEM subjects and has featured a number of leading female figures from the world of STEM, while graduates from Siemens have run girls only STEM workshops.
In November 2014, Laura Hoad, BET’s head of STEM, attended a roundtable hosted by The Daily Telegraph on Women in STEM. One barrier, which BET and Siemens are trying to address, is people’s perception of engineering. Laura explains: “When we ask students to draw an engineer they depict a man and a mechanic.”
Our work, alongside our partners Siemens and SSTL, is having an impact on girls’ perceptions of careers in STEM. Alice, a pupil, said: “I have really enjoyed the STEM lessons so far. I especially enjoyed learning about the International Space Station and would now be interested in learning more about a career in the space industry.”
Across the board, with both male and female students, the effect of our STEM lessons is starting to be felt. Before the STEM curriculum started just 17% of students said they knew what STEM stood for.
These figures show the curriculum is having the intended effect and is inspiring a wider number of young people.
Catherine Bickley is one of our STEM teachers and is helping us roll out the scheme. She recognises the benefits it has: “The SSTL scheme of work engaged some students who are usually harder to motivate. They particularly enjoyed being able to take risks such as when they made a suspension system for a Mars rover.”
Unfortunately, such positive work risks being undermined by ingrained attitudes from parents towards STEM subjects. Acting upon research that suggests many students decide their career options primarily based on their parents’ opinions of certain industries, we decided to tackle this issues by hosting a free STEM festival in Liphook.
Numerous local and national businesses as well attended, offering hands-on workshops and interactive exhibits. We have held two STEM Festivals and more than 6,000 people have attended. Exit surveys from the Festivals have shown that the percentage of parents that would recommend a STEM career to their children doubled to nearly 90% by the end of the Festival.
The road ahead
As well as providing further opportunities for our students in Liphook, we are planning to introduce the curriculum to our two other schools in the Trust – Priory in Portsmouth and Bohunt School Worthing in East Sussex. In these areas we are looking to partner with organisations that, like us, are keen to inspire more young people with the prospects provided by a STEM career.
Interested parties should contact Polly Young at [email protected] or 01428 725904 for further details.
We have shown that establishing partnerships between industry and education can have a huge impact on addressing the STEM skills shortage at just one school.
Over the years to come, we will be continuing on this path and we urge STEM firms and schools up and down the country to join together and do the same for the benefit of future generations.