Supporting STEM Education

By Yvonne Baker

As we welcome new and old ministers back into the halls of Westminster and they are no doubt identifying their key priorities for the first one hundred days, may I suggest something a little radical?

Girls soldering circuit board

Girls soldering circuit board

In terms education, and especially the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), perhaps they should take time to look carefully at what already exists, is making progress, and is revered worldwide. In other words, continue to invest in the existing support that is making a difference, and is making the UK a model for many other countries around the world.

World-wide demand for STEM

Concerns about STEM skills, of course are neither new, nor UK-centric. Whilst the Royal Academy of Engineering estimated a few years ago that the UK economy needs an additional 100,000 engineers per year to achieve its full potential, other countries tell a similar story. France, for example, is estimated to train around 30,000 engineers each year, whilst there is a demand for at least 40,000; it may be an even greater surprise to learn that Germany estimates a shortfall of 200,000 STEM graduates each year.

What is unique for the UK is the strategic view that has been taken around STEM skills by successive governments for some time. Professor Sir Gareth Roberts’ ‘Set for Success’ report kicked off a chain of events which now places us in a position which many other countries wish they could emulate. This includes a strong, established infrastructure supporting those teaching STEM subjects to young people from early years to post-16 comprising of: the National Science Learning Network; the National STEM Centre; the National Centre for Excellence in Teaching of Mathematics; and the STEM Ambassadors programme. In addition, we benefit from a wonderful array of enhancement and enrichment schemes ranging from the CREST Awards and the Big Bang Fair, to smaller local efforts.

Continued collaboration is key

What makes this possible is unparalleled collaboration between successive governments, employers and organisations, such as the Wellcome Trust and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. A partnership which, united in ensuring all young people have access to a great STEM education, has lasted for over a decade. This has been crucial in enabling those supporting teachers of STEM through high impact subject-specific professional development. A good example of this is Project ENTHUSE, which has enabled the National Science Learning Centre to work intensively with over 14,000 teachers and leaders of science, in the process impacting many hundreds of thousands of young people across the UK.

Impact of CPD at National Science Learning Centre 2013-14

Impact of CPD at National Science Learning Centre 2013-14


What is also unique about this is the focus put on supporting teachers of STEM, not just targeting support directly at young people which, whilst vital, will not result in the systemic change that education systems worldwide require if the STEM skills challenge is to be addressed. As McKinsey stated in their 2007 report

“No education system can exceed the quality of its teachers”.

Nowhere is this more true than in science and other STEM subjects – as the Wellcome Trust says:

The future of science depends on the quality of science teaching today.

And whilst there is still much to be done, the results of this long-term investment and faith of governments, employers and charitable trusts are really beginning to come through. This includes;

  • an increase in both the number and proportion of A levels being taken in STEM subjects over the last five years with chemistry and mathematics showing particularly positive rises
  • 98,000 students beginning STEM undergraduate courses in 2014, the highest level ever recorded

Underpinning this, we have a much greater awareness of the importance and value of STEM subjects for all young people across the school and college system, with STEM enhancement & enrichment activities, as well as teacher on-going development, reaching further into the school and college sector than ever before.

Challenges remain

We need to get better at communicating the opportunity and satisfaction of the whole range of STEM-related careers to young people, their parents and their teachers. Campaigns such as the Your Life initiative are helping pull together communications and signposting opportunities. Project ENTHUSE is enabling teachers to spend up to two weeks with a STEM employer, opening the lid on the variety of roles, from the more traditional graduate path to the equally important apprenticeship and technician routes. As one participating teacher said:

It completely blew my misconceptions about manufacturing right out of the water.

We also need to ensure that supporting primary teachers, and engaging primary aged children, is given the priority it deserves. Research such as the Aspires project shows that, whilst young people are positive about science and STEM as a whole, they form ideas very early on regarding whether they ‘see themselves as a scientist’ (or engineer, or technologist). At the same time, we know anecdotally that a perceived lack of focus on science from Ofsted, even though it remains firmly a core subject at primary level, has encouraged some primary heads to see it as ‘second best. In some cases this relegates it from the regular timetable to a single science week, or even worse. This perception is not necessarily ill-founded – an informal survey of around 100 primary Ofsted reports found just one mention of science. Just one!

But perhaps the biggest challenge to the progress that has been made is the tendency of funders, including governments, to always be looking beyond what is in place and – whilst always capable of further improvement – is making a difference, in favour of ‘a better mousetrap’. After all, with something as ‘now’ as STEM, there is always someone coming to a Minister’s door offering a new magical, overnight solution. However, as Marc Durando of European Schoolnet, who sees efforts to support STEM education all over the world, says:

“It is important not to reinvent but to support and strengthen what has already proven its success and to work on successful mainstreaming mechanisms”.

As Ian McDaid, Head of Science at Balby Carr Community Academy in Doncaster puts it:

“Don’t take away the support upon which so many teachers depend. Every day, we see it helping ensure our STEM teaching changes lives.  There is a greater need than ever to increase the support and profile of STEM subjects nationally if we are to compete in the global market.  This is important enough to command cross party support to enable the National Science Learning Network to further expand and improve the essential support provided for teachers”.

Exciting Science Activities for Early Years and Key Stage One

By Nicola Waller

Primary science experiment - magic bucket

Primary science experiment – magic bucket

The Annual Primary Science Conference held at the National Science Learning Centre, York, is always a highlight in my academic diary. I have been, without fail, for many years now both as a participant and as a presenter. I will be there this year, networking in both of these guises on Tuesday 30th June this year. The session I have decided to offer is ‘Option F’ in a superb list of choices.It is titled ‘Exciting Science Activities for Early Years and Key Stage One’. I chose to offer this because, as an experienced primary school teacher, I have taught children in Key Stage Two for the majority of my career, however, after having my own children, I seem to have experienced a personal epiphany in just how wonderful and rewarding planning and teaching science activities for the youngest children in school can be. I also believe that sessions for Early Years and Key Stage One teachers can often be under represented at conferences and events and I wanted to do something to attempt to readdress the imbalance.

My workshop will be practical, whereby you can try out a range of carefully planned, tried and tested science activities either created for or adapted to suit children in Early Years and Key Stage One. I have put a real emphasis on the ‘tried and tested’ aspect of the session, as I believe it is of the upmost importance that every activity I bring ‘to the table’ has actually been carried out by me, in the classroom with children of the relevant age range. In many of my recent experiences, I have learnt from mistakes, evaluated and adapted ideas that I thought or presumed would work, but quite clearly required rethinking or improving. I have built up a bank of science lessons and activities that really do work, I am proud of the resulting product and I am looking forward to sharing these with you on the day.

Thinking scientifically in primary science

One of my favourite activities, which I will share with you on the day, requires children to think like real scientists and suggest what might be happening inside of my ‘magic bucket’. Using simple equipment such as different sized cups, sticky tape and drinking straws, you can make a mini model of the bucket to take away and show one possible way that the water could be changing from blue to red. The key learning outcome I aim to show is that even the youngest children can offer suggestions and ideas forwards and begin to understand that the bucket is working actually ‘not by magic’ but because of science!

The photo shows a Year 1 child demonstrating the ‘magic bucket’ he has made during this activity. You can see the blue water has been poured in at the top but red water is coming out at the bottom!

Related professional development courses

Primary maths conference (MY007) 29 June.

Primary science conference (Ny007) 30 June.

Primary computing conference (TY007)  1 July.

Special Offer! Book either the primary maths or the primary computing conference with the primary science conference and you will receive your overnight accommodation and evening meal for free –  on request and subject to availability.  For accommodation and evening meal bookings please email



Outdoor learning in primary schools

by Rosie Hancock

Rosie Hancock teaches at Brayton CE Primary School, she has been a primary school teacher since 2011 after qualifying at Leeds Trinity University College. Rosie is one of 50 teachers to win £1,000 for their schools as a result of their entry in the Rolls-Royce Science Prize. In this article she outlines her entry for the prize and the effect it has had on her school.

Outdoor learning with magnifying glasses

Outdoor learning with magnifying glasses. Photo courtesy of Victoria Jackson.

I have always had a keen interest in getting children into the outdoors to enhance their learning. I have seen from first-hand experience the ‘wow’ moments that children can encounter while the doors are open. So I jumped at the chance of attending a course entitled, ‘Science in the Outdoor Classroom,’ at the National Science Learning Centre.

At the end of the first residential period of the course, I was bursting with ideas on how I could improve my own pedagogy, and how I could disseminate the information and skills I had been given throughout my school. My proposed plan had an overarching objective of increasing teaching staff’s confidence and enthusiasm for outdoor learning. This would enable children to regularly access learning outdoors and inspire them to develop a love of learning.

Developing the cross curricular impact of outdoor learning

I was hoping to achieve this through focussed CPD sessions for all staff, developing a system in which practitioners share, evidence and evaluate examples of good practise of outdoor learning. This will culminate in all staff planning an ‘Outdoor Learning’ week in the Summer Term. During this time exciting cross-curricular activities will be planned and delivered by all teaching staff to have a direct impact on the children’s positive attitude towards learning.

I also thought it would be beneficial to use outdoor learning to have an impact on children’s skills in other areas, such as;

  • independent learning,
  • investigative skills
  • questioning

Developing community cohesion

It was proposed that the children in key stage2 (KS2) would be involved in creating and maintaining challenge areas around the school grounds, which could be accessed throughout focussed lesson time, and also playtimes and lunchtimes. By winning the Rolls-Royce Science Prize £1000 Special Merit Award, equipment will be able to be ordered to resource these areas.

In order to do this successfully, the extensive school grounds would need a routine of maintenance. To accomplish this, and to have a positive impact on community cohesion, it was proposed that the school would sporadically hold ‘Environment Days’. This would involve parents, children, staff and governors working together on a weekend to clear the school grounds, in particular, the wildlife area. Coffee and cake would be provided in return for an hour’s hard graft!

Finally, the course coincided with the school’s need to extend outdoor provision areas for KS1. While currently very successful in EYFS, there was a desire for this provision to continue into Year 1 and Year 2. The plan proposed for research to be undertaken in schools with current successful outdoor learning areas, culminating in a plan to develop and enhance the provision areas in our school.

Managing outdoor learning

The research will also be supported by the £1000 Special Merit Award. It will not only provide resources for these areas, but allow myself, as the Outdoor Learning Leader, time to visit other schools to ensure that our new outdoor provision areas have a maximum impact on children’s learning.  This would hopefully impact directly on children’s attainment as they have access to focussed learning opportunities, allowing them to use and apply skills learnt in the classroom.

An Outdoor Learning Steering Committee was set up in the school to manage the action plan. This Committee consisted of many different stakeholders in the school, all of whom would bring a variety of experience and knowledge to the group, such as a Foundation Stage Leader who had experience of good practise in outdoor provision areas, a Governor who specialised in ICT and our Science Leader to develop this action plan in line with the Science Curriculum. By using a Steering Committee from all areas of the school, the action plan would be embedded quickly into the ethos of our school.

The Rolls-Royce Science Prize is an annual awards programme that helps teachers implement science and mathematics teaching ideas in their schools and colleges. The awards programme is open to all schools and colleges in the UK.

Other related continuing professional development courses

Primary Science Conference (NY007)

Leading Science in the Outdoor Classroom (NY009)

Teaching primary maths and science outdoors (NY046)

Science in the outdoors – to progress literacy and numeracy (RP009)

Related resources from the National STEM Centre

Outdoor classroom resources and research

Outdoor classroom resources for key stage 2 (7-11yrs)

Enhancing Primary Science

By Shelley Drury

Enhancing Primary Science: A visit to Dove Marine Laboratory

Enhancing Primary Science: A visit to Dove Marine Laboratory

Shelley Drury is Deputy Head of Curriculum for Science at Kings Priory School (KPS) in Tynemouth.  She has been teaching science for 12 years, with specialisms in biology and chemistry across primary and secondary schools.  Her current role involves overseeing middle years at KPS. Shelley is one of 50 teachers to win £1,000 for their schools as a result of their entry in the Rolls-Royce Science Prize. In this article she outlines her entry for the prize and the effect it has had on her school.

I attended the course “New Primary Science Curriculum: Teaching, Learning and Assessment” in York last May (2014).  Following this I wanted to develop my expertise in the new primary curriculum to enhance my role overseeing middle years but also to improve progression, along with our primary teachers, all through the school.  The course provided me with the knowledge I required but also envisioned me to explore ways to enhance science learning in and out of lessons.

Science Ambassadors Programme

During this time our Science Ambassadors programme was in its infancy.  I had decided to search for 20 new Science Ambassadors from our year 9 and 10 cohort.  To apply they had to fill in an application form and make a one minute video explaining something scientific.

The premise of the Science Ambassadors programme was to train up the students so that they could then plan and lead workshops with 150 of our year 3 and 4 pupils.  Training involved teacher led sessions, a trip to London and a visit to the Dove Laboratory.  In July, our Science Ambassadors delivered workshops in rocket making, microbiology, forensics and chemical reactions.  As a teacher it was a challenge to step back and let our students lead but we were overwhelmed with pride to see them excel. It was truly inspiring for both the students and the staff.

Primary science ambassadors at the Dove Laboratory

Primary science ambassadors at the Dove Marine Laboratory

In 2014/2015 we planned to expand and develop the Science Ambassadors programme, following its initial success, by expanding it to impact the whole school and the wider community. The announcement that we were Special Merit Award winners in the Rolls Royce Science Prize has really catalysed this process. We are now really inspired to be part of this programme.  We have been working on expanding the training opportunities for Science Ambassadors, have recruited some more students, and are running our first “Mini Einsteins” workshop, for our year 4 students and their parents/carers.  We have also started to plan the science festival we always dreamed of organising, but never had the money. The £1000 is helping make this a reality. This event will impact the whole school and the wider community.

We have expanded the planning team within school and developed external partnerships to enhance our programme.  Over the next few months, students will be involved in sessions with Newcastle University’s Street Science Team and attending biomedical science workshops at the Durham University Science Festival.

Our most exciting partnership, however, is the link we are making with Ian Simmonds, Head of Communication at the Centre for Life and Director of the UK Maker Faire. We are working closely with Ian to develop a bespoke training programme for our Science Ambassadors, next month they are performing as Science Buskers at the Maker Faire, following training at the Centre for Life.  Over the next year we will develop a robust programme of training in science communication that will enable students to be stall holders at this prestigious event.  Ian is also providing practical support for KPS’s Science Festival.

The Science Ambassadors programme is inspiring both students and staff by exposing us all to opportunities and links beyond the four walls of the classroom.

The Rolls-Royce Science Prize is an annual awards programme that helps teachers implement science and mathematics teaching ideas in their schools and colleges. The awards programme is open to all schools and colleges in the UK.

Related Professional Development

Working scientifically in the new curriculum (RP107)

Teaching key areas of primary science KS1-KS2 (RP112)

Assessment in the new primary curriculum – a world without levels (RP102)

Leading innovation in primary science (NY005)

Technology in the Classroom: Augmented Reality

By Paul CookUsing Augmented Reality in the Classroom: Primary Science Anatomy

My name is Paul Cook and I am the Senior Lead Technician at ARK Burlington Danes Academy, I have worked as a Senior / Head technician for many years in various schools in Essex and across London covering all three sciences to A-Level but with a specialism in Physics.

I have a real passion for presenting demonstrations to help inspire and enthuse students by making scientific theory visible and understandable to all. Some of these can be seen at;

I believe that excellent technicians are vitally important to the practical impact of student learning within science and that the profile of science technicians should be raised at every opportunity.

I have been very fortunate to attend a lot of courses at the National Science Learning Centre in York, which is a fantastic centre offering a range of relevant, excellently resourced and presented Continuing Professional Development (CPD).  It was at one of the National Technicians Conference workshops that I first saw QR codes and their uses explained.

QR Codes – Technology for the classroom

On the wall in the classroom, just by chance was a poster called “Flaming Elements” by Zappar. I was introduced to the amazing technology of Augmented Reality. The poster comes alive and you can interact with it through your tablet or smartphone!!

Inspired by this new technology, I attended the – Experienced Technicians Programme: Practical ICT course, where I discovered how easy the QR code was to use and to create. By downloading a QR creator/generator such as the ones below

It is quick and easy to create an interactive activity to engage students, for example creating a science QR quiz or using it on a poster with a hyper link to a video or web site.

Awe and Wonder Tools

I also saw the “Makey Makey “kit which allows you to adapt the cursor functions of a computer to any conductive material, such as coloured bowls of water or fruit and leaves. Suddenly you can play an online keyboard with bananas or grapes, a great visual and tactile way to engage students.

I could see these as exciting “Awe and wonder “tools to inspire students. QR codes and AR (Augmented Reality) apps offer an amazing new detailed visual interactive media with huge educational potential.

My action plan was to find out more about Augmented Reality and implement all of this newly found knowledge and technology on my return. I have carried out the following presentations;

  • To science teaching staff so that this technology could be used in lessons
  • To ARK network science technicians on a Hub training day, so this can be suggested and implemented in other schools in the ARK Academy network.
  • INSET Training day, giving a presentation to the whole schools teaching staff to highlight the technology and its potential. So this would have inter- departmental impact. Geography is now using QR codes in their revision guides.

The impact on students is through interactive learning which can link the theory they are being taught to visual understanding, also encouraging the use of tablet and smartphone technology in an educational way.

Useful classroom apps for KS3

I have found these apps really useful for me to go into lessons from KS3 to A-level, for example

Especially when used alongside a dissection!!

For space these AR apps will always get attention    or

Teachers have a visual tool to help reinforce the theory in lessons and improve student engagement.  The use of new ICT in observed lessons also has the potential of being awarded a higher grade.

Using the Rolls-Royce Science Prize

The £1000 funding from the Rolls-Royce award, will assist in the purchase of adapters to allow staff to connect tablets / iPads to white boards so the whole class can see the app being used. Students do not currently have access to tablets for class use, the prize will allow funds towards a class set. Funding could also allow me to provide resources for potential primary outreach.

I have recently visited the headquarters of Zappar, makers of an augmented reality app and discussed the new projects that they are working on including Zappar Creator which can be used in primary schools and asked for them to liaise with projects going forward.

Other courses showcasing technology for the classroom include:

Technicians CPD

Experienced Technicians Programme: Using technology in the classroom (NY607)

ASE Technicians Conference (NY602)

Supporting Technicians with the new A Level Practicals (NY614)

Primary CPD

Linking primary science and computing technology (NY011)

Enhancing the core primary curriculum through technology (TY002)

Secondary CPD

Teaching literacy, numeracy and scientific thinking through design and technology (TY201)

Using digital technology to support science learning (RP700)



Go Team Science!

By Sally Norville

Secondary science students

Secondary science students

Sally Norville is from Canon Lee School and is one of 50 teachers to win £1,000 for their school as a result of their entry in the Rolls-Royce Science Prize. In this article she outlines her entry for the prize and the effect it has had on her school.

Is your Science faculty stuck in yesteryear? Ours was! We were disjointed and had no clear direction.  However we refocused and turned our approach around to become a united front, much to the benefit of our students. To do this we focused on 3 key threads, all fundamental to our success:

  1. To facilitate quality assurance across the department and enable further developments
    • it was important that we are all ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’. As a Faculty we agreed to invest in schemes of work
    • the faculty had never used a scheme of work pre-September 2013 and was very disjointed in its approach. We had wasted far too much on photocopying and were all teaching different things
    • our aim was to become organised, set up filing systems, reuse sheets and cut down on waste. This is now really coming along well!
  2. We agreed to aim to improve student engagement through developing a series of metacognitive activities to complement the scheme of work.
    • such activities would include games that would interest and enthuse students. All members of the Faculty got involved and we even invented a new game ‘tabarrioo’
  3. Practical skills in science are so important.
    • students in all age groups were targeted for development of their enquiry skills. For example we only give them a title such as ‘which is the most dunkable biscuit?’ and the students had to come up with everything else. This has worked wonders for their investigative skills and introduced them to terms like “independent and dependent variable.” The students have really enjoyed working at their own pace and choosing their own criteria and applying this to their KS4 controlled assessments

We still have a way to go but have really come together as a team and are leading the way for faculty development in our school. Go team science!

The Rolls-Royce Science Prize is an annual awards programme that helps teachers implement science and mathematics teaching ideas in their schools and colleges. The awards programme is open to all schools and colleges in the UK.

Can teachers be researchers – on top of everything else?

By Fran Dainty

Dylan Wiliam on Formative Assessment

Dylan Wiliam

Teachers often feel like they are not only expected to be a teacher but also fulfil the role of social worker, police officer, parent, advisor and general expert in everything in their day to day practice. So it is of no surprise that Professors John Hattie and Dylan Wiliam have recently raised concerns over another expert role that a teacher is now expected to fulfil; researchers. Yes, to be able to evaluate the strategies you are using with different classes and use the current research that underpins these choices is key to having an impact with students, but do teachers really have the necessary skills to be able to be effective researchers in their own classrooms?

Having taught science in a variety of secondary schools for 16 years, I have always been keen to try out new strategies, learn from my peers and ‘magpie’ what I think will work with my students. I’ve tried action research as part of a pilot in schools and have encouraged colleagues to try this too. We have seen varying degrees of success in what we have trialed, shared and implemented. We’ve called this ‘action research’ but is it really? I would never claim to have the research skills or methodology of an academic but putting something new into action, keeping things fresh for my students, then evaluating the impact to decide whether I will include it again in my teaching has always been quite an empowering part of the job.

Presenting research to teachers

Working at the National Science Learning Centre in York has really opened my eyes to the massive gap between the wealth of educational research analysed by academics such as Hattie, and how this can be packaged effectively so that teachers can make full use of the current research and be expert evaluators of the impact in their own classrooms. The way that research is presented to teachers is therefore crucial. I’ve often found myself buying a multitude of books during the six week holidays with a view to ‘gen up’ on the latest research but, then come September, the decision between spending time marking and planning or reading a few chapters of my latest purchase rarely goes in the favour of the latter option! I have found the Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and learning toolkit, where teachers and schools can get involved in educational research projects a powerful tool that can be used effectively. A collection of research and evidence that supports a range interventions is described, alongside the impact on pupil progress and a cost analysis.

Bridging the gap between research and the classroom

So what else can be done to help bridge the gap between the academic research and ensuring it is understood and has an impact in the classroom, without expecting teachers to do this as additional role? The Continuing Professional Development (CPD) team at the National Science Learning Centre do the work for you. All CPD provided is underpinned by the latest educational research and teachers are given the opportunity to really explore and discuss what works and why throughout each course. With the latest guidance from Ofsted stating that no one set teaching style is prescribed but teachers should be able to justify their choice of strategy, this can only give more power to the elbow of teachers if they are able to make clear reference to what works and explain their evidence base. A model of teacher change that has informed my own practice and is embedded throughout all aspects of CPD across the National Science Learning Network was originally presented nearly two decades ago by Guskey (1986).


The Guskey report describes ways of measuring impact through a sequence of events from a range of professional development experiences to a shift and change in teachers’ attitudes and perceptions. It goes on to put high quality professional development at the heart of improving education by measuring impact. It is noted that it is often difficult for teachers to recognise and identify what impact they should be looking for as a result of research and interventions, so models to support this are certainly welcomed.

Wellcome Trust Neuroscience and Learning Project

A further area of current research linking neuroscience and learning has been launched by the Wellcome Trust which aims to provide an opportunity for teachers to have conversations with scientists about the research on how young people learn.This area of collaboration with the National Science Learning Centre will not only enhance the high quality CPD currently offered, but would provide another layer to aid teachers’ understanding of cutting edge research and evidence.

What we all want is for learning to be maximised in every classroom so that students can learn to their full potential. Hattie and Wiliam are right; let’s leave teachers to do what they do best and become reflective and expert evaluators of their own practice and let leading CPD providers bridge the gap between the academic research and the classroom.


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