Inspiring primary scientists
But we have a pipeline issue for STEM in the UK – there are simply not enough young people pursuing further study or careers in these sectors.
Much of the focus on tackling this issue so far has focused at secondary level and above, but provision of apprenticeships and encouragement to choose sciences at 16 will only take us so far in addressing this, as young people's educational choices are forming well before that.
By the time they reach secondary school too many children have already 'switched off' to science subjects, despite the fact that science offers a route into interesting and well-paid jobs.
In this report we look at how to address this issue earlier in the school system – at primary school – reviewing existing evidence and reporting on a new survey of primary school teachers conducted for this report.
Unless science is exciting, interesting and challenging in primary school, the pipeline will clog long before secondary level.
We need to tackle the challenges early on, otherwise anything else further down the line just becomes a sticking plaster. And this will require all of the different stakeholders to work together: businesses, universities, government and schools themselves.
Teaching science at primary schools presents a specific set of challenges, including finding curriculum time, the level of priority given to science, the confidence of generalist primary teachers to teach science and a relative lack of professional development around the subject. Our survey shows that over half of teachers in England report science getting less important in the curriculum, and many schools setting aside too little time. The position elsewhere in the UK is more positive, but challenges remain. Given the importance of the subject, it is time for action – but this should not be driven by a return to testing.
Despite a wide range of good practice taking place, driven by businesses, universities and schools themselves, links between the three to support science are still too rare. This is disappointing, as the feedback from these schemes is usually positive, and such links can present a solution to issues around staff confidence and professional development, as well as inspiring students. This kind of engagement should be encouraged and incentivised – and businesses and universities need to do more
There is a lot of STEM education support from businesses and universities – as they recognise clearly the issues around the talent pipeline, and are committed to helping rectify this issue. But more support is needed for primary schools in particular – tackling the problem early on should be a priority.