With the arrival of the summer holidays, many pupils around the country will be thinking about the next chapter in their lives. Or at least they will after they’ve tired of the sun and days in the park, and the British weather has returned to normal.
But while students will be facing weeks of summer ahead, not all students' prospects look as sunny, with many facing barriers to reaching their full potential. We all know that it’s not just how smart we are and how hard we work at school, but what our background is, who we are, and who we know that has a big impact on the choices available to us.
With the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, recently setting out his plans for increasing social mobility, this blog looks at the role that boosting students' 'science capital' can play in raising social mobility, and highlights a case study of a practical programme, In2ScienceUK, that is doing just that.
There's a real crisis of diversity in the science professions. You only need to look at who becomes scientists, engineers, and innovators to see this. Research shows that women, minorities, and children from low-income families are all far less likely to become inventors than white men from high-income families. And according to the Social Mobility Commission, just 15% of scientists, 9% of life science professionals, and only 6% of doctors come from working class backgrounds.
This matters because STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills are not only crucial to our economy, but careers in these areas represent a viable route towards economic stability for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. University degrees remain the key to many STEM-related and higher-paying careers, but if progress on social mobility continues at the current rate it will take about 80 years before the participation gap between students from disadvantaged and more advantaged areas closes.
In addition to structural factors like class, gender, and ethnicity, one of the main factors that determines who goes into a science-related career is what has been termed ‘science capital’. Science capital is the personal resources that an individual possesses that affect how they view science. This might include knowledge (what they know), attitudes (what they think), experiences (what they do) and contacts (who they know).
In2ScienceUK, a UK charity, aims to inspire and support the next generation of scientists, engineers and innovators in this country by increasing young people’s science capital and tackling poor careers advice and work experience which currently lead one-third of children from poorer backgrounds, even with the same GCSE results as their better-off classmates, to drop out of post-16 education.
In2ScienceUK taps into the expertise and experience of volunteer STEM professionals to offer students from disadvantaged backgrounds work placements and an intensive set of skills days and workshops to increase their exposure to the world of science.
The programme works by helping to increase pupils' knowledge of what STEM jobs can do through meeting scientists and finding out what it’s like to work in a lab or out in the field with an engineer, as well as supporting students to take the next step and apply to university by preparing them for interviews and writing personal statements.
The in2scienceUK programme has proven impact and have had data independently analysed by the University and College Admissions Service (UCAS), which shows that 83 percent of students’ progress to university, with 58 percent attending a top university. Normally, only 16 per cent of students on free school meals go to university (and only 2 per cent to highly selective institutions).
In2scienceUK is one of 16 organisations recently selected to take part in the Connected Communities Innovation Fund (CCIF). This funding will allow In2ScienceUK to form a new strategic partnership with STEM Learning to tap into their incredible network of role models from industry, STEM Ambassadors, which is made up of over 30,000 people from more than 2,500 different employers. These STEM Ambassadors are enthusiastic, passionate individuals who inspire young people and possess a rich wealth of advice, knowledge and skills. This partnership will expand the programme much further afield and ultimately help greater numbers of students from more disadvantaged backgrounds realise their potential.
The biggest divides in social mobility are between London and the rest of the UK. In order to make the biggest difference in the lives of disadvantaged young people, we must expand our reach.
Working together with STEM Learning, the in2scienceUK programme will soon extend well beyond London, Oxford and Cambridge. By the end of the funding period, the partnership will be benefiting over a thousand students a year in the South East, South West, East of England and the North West. Following the funding period, we will be poised to expand further into the Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber and beyond.
Ultimately, our aim is to help greater numbers of disadvantaged young people reach their potential, and we are all incredibly excited about what the next few years will bring. If you are as excited as us, please get in touch if you want to find out more about the programme and how you can get involved by emailing [email protected]
You can learn more about Nesta's research into exposure to innovation and how to increase diversity among innovators here.