Science and engineering education

Since 1990 Gatsby has made grants to support education totalling £150 million. Virtually every secondary school in the country has used Gatsby-funded curriculum resources in support of their design & technology and science teaching, and Gatsby continues to focus its support on the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in state schools and Further Education colleges. A few examples of its projects are given below.

Although the shortage of physics teachers had been known of for many years, Gatsby was the first to quantify the scale of the problem: around a quarter of 11-16 state schools did not have a single physics specialist on their staff. Gatsby has supported several projects to tackle this problem, most notably the Physics Enhancement Programme, which enables recruitment of physics teachers from a wider range of degree subjects. An intensive 6-month course in physics subject knowledge is provided prior to entering teacher training followed by additional support during the first two years of teaching. At the height of Gatsby’s work in this field, nearly a quarter of all new physicists entering teaching were coming from Gatsby-supported schemes. This year, 2011/12, will see more new physics teachers being trained in England than at any time during the last 30 years.

In the late 1990s, the number of students studying A-Level Further Maths seemed to be in terminal decline. Gatsby funded MEI to undertake a project to investigate what could be done to reverse this trend and make Further Maths more widely available, especially in state schools. The subsequent work blended face-to-face tuition with distance learning for pupils and developed on-line training material for teachers. The model has proven to be very successful and, following the Gatsby pilot, the government rolled-out the programme across the UK. Since 2003, the number of people studying A-Level Further Mathematics each year has more than doubled, from 5,300 to 11,700.

Much of Gatsby’s current effort focuses on strengthening the supply and status of technicians in the engineering, science and IT workforce. We believe that the science and engineering professional bodies have a key role to play in this by developing professional registration standards for transferable skills that meet employer needs. Gatsby is therefore working with the new Technician Council and others to support efforts to create a common framework of professional registration for technicians. This framework will stimulate an expansion of the existing technician registration schemes in engineering and IT, and also extend the reach of registration to encompass the science and health sectors.

This country suffers an embarrassment of riches when it comes to enrichment schemes, prizes and other initiatives designed to support and promote STEM education. These schemes are very fragmented and only a minority secure the level of sustainable impact they are capable of. Gatsby believes there is benefit – to schools and colleges, scheme providers and often the public purse – in increasing coordination between the various initiatives. Our work in this area is limited to a small number of partnerships. These include the Big Bang Fair – which brings together under a single umbrella the numerous science and engineering competitions aimed at young people – and the National STEM Centre in York, which provides a one-stop-shop for busy teachers looking for quality-assured curriculum support material. A significant digitisation programme at the Centre is already underway which allows teachers online access to thousands of resources which have previously only been available in hard copy.