STEM Learning’s Evaluation team, thanks to the work of Research Toolkit, have just released an independent investigation of the impact of the STEM Ambassadors programme, digging deeper into the outcomes for all involved.
The result is a 360-degree look at the programme which highlights the advantages for everyone involved and explores the connections between schools, students, the STEM Ambassadors who volunteer their time, and the employers who take part.
The research covered a broad range of schools from a diverse set of locations. Primary and secondary schools were included, with recent Ofsted reports ranging from ‘excellent’ to ‘needs improvement’. The students were from a wide range of backgrounds too, including some schools with a high proportion of pupils receiving free school meals and some with a significant number of pupils for whom English is not their first language. The range of employers involved was also diverse, including engineering firms, an insurance brokers, the RAF, and a university.
“In the past 80% said they wanted to be Youtubers, vets, footballers or gamers. After our first visit to SPTS we interviewed our children again and they are now considering career changes.”
(Teacher, St Julian’s Primary, Newport)
Even with such a broad sample, some consistent themes came up again and again when interviewing those involved. . Both schools and Ambassadors frequently mentioned that they aimed to improve girls’ access to STEM subjects and careers, and STEM Ambassadors were found to have used a number of innovative and engaging projects to do this. Another issue that goes hand in hand with the issue of gender equality is the need to transform stereotypical pictures of what a scientist, engineer or other STEM professional does, and the type of person who might take up this job. Throughout the report there is a consistent theme of STEM Ambassadors helping raise the aspirations of pupils, and broaden their idea of who may find value or enjoyment from studying STEM subjects.
“It helped us to think more positively about STEM subjects ... I learned the importance of STEM within business, not just maths.”
(Student, St Angela’s Ursuline School, Newham)
“It is helpful to promote what the RAF do because they are helping to smash the gender stereotypes associated with engineering.”
(STEM Ambassador, RAF Youth and STEM Team)
The report also highlights some debate around whether STEM Ambassadors should run activities for pupils while they are at primary school. Some employers and Ambassadors found that these sessions with younger children are more of a challenge, and some volunteers needed more support to know how to best communicate their subject to a primary audience. However, the benefits of enthusing children with an appreciation of STEM while they are still at primary school was seen to far outweigh any challenges.
“It needs to start when they are infants. By the time they’ve got to me they’ve already got quite fixed ideas about things. I try to influence them towards different things and encourage them towards subjects you know they are going to be good at and enjoy.”
(Teacher, Rangeworthy Church of England Primary School)
As the investigation was undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic, the report also discusses how employers and schools have responded, in particular by running STEM enrichment activities online, including using video calls or creating pre-recorded resources. While online events can lack the ‘wow’ factor of something like a site visit for students, some benefits to online activities were highlighted. For example, they enabled STEM Ambassadors to interact with more young people in a broader range of locations. It also allowed for more efficient use of employers’ time and resources, ultimately impacting more students than could be reached by a face-to-face session.
“We haven’t really done anything virtual before. We thought we would be more comfortable with the in-person setting but we found the virtual setting was more engaging than we thought.”
(STEM Ambassador, Willis Towers Watson)
Finally, many of the employers interviewed saw a real advantage from engaging with the STEM Ambassador programme, particularly the infrastructure, resources and national support provided by STEM Learning.
With such a wealth of testimonials presented in the report, this is just a snapshot of what was found.