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Business Breakfast: Working together to rebuild science capital for young people

Published: Aug 9, 2021 6 min read


The latest in our successful series of virtual business breakfasts saw more than 100 participants focus on ‘what’s on schools’ minds and how can we support them?’. It proved to be another topical, honest and lively session with fascinating contributions from a diverse range of panellists.

We know that the pandemic has hit young people’s education hard – and the session was designed to explore ways our business partners can join forces with us to address the many challenges which now exist. Kicking off the breakfast, held remotely on 29 July, was Mark Langley, Science CPD Lead at STEM Learning. Mark began by posing the question – what does developing science capital in young people actually mean?

He explained that evidence suggests that because of the disruption to teaching during the last 18 months, students now lack knowledge in various areas of science – particularly face to face practicals which normally contribute so much to their knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject.

He discussed the three key pillars for redeveloping science capital – personalising and localising science, linking everyday activities to science to ensure students understand its relevance in everyday life, and the dimensions of science capital itself.

He said: “A lot of science taught in schools can be abstract – for example, students in a rural area learning about blast furnaces when there are no blast furnaces near to them. Localising is critical and context is all-important.

“A good idea is for teachers to link everyday events to science to make it relevant. For a group of Year 8 students studying respiration, you could work with the local NHS or a voluntary organisation and teach basic first aid. You’ve then given them a real life context – and taught them a life skill too.”

He added that linking the students with adults who use science in their jobs is a great way of building science capital, and encouraged companies to contact their local schools to discover ways they could help.

He said: “Another idea is for teachers, teaching assistants and technicians to link up with employers and spend an hour in a local company, talking to employees to find out more about their roles. Once teachers get this information, they’re very talented at contextualising it and bringing it to life in lessons.”

Next up was Steve Carey, Executive Head Teacher/CEO at the Aletheia Anglican Academies Trust. He began by saying: “I think this should be seen as a time of opportunity…not just a time to recover, a time to do things differently” and went on to give an honest assessment of the ways in which the pandemic has affected education – saying teaching staff are “very tired”.

He said: “Disadvantaged children have been impacted far more greatly – there is a very pronounced digital divide. There has been a dramatic increase in mental health issues in young people.

“During lockdown children have looked inside themselves and stopped looking outwardly. There’s a nervousness about the next step – they’ve seen their peers miss out on apprenticeships and more.

“We’ve lacked the ability to host engaging, in person, extra-curricular activities for young people. There has been a distinct lack of external support for schools - who have come to rely on each other for support.”

He said that to re-engage and reconnect with young people, they’re aiming to make learning fun again now that they can return to science labs. They’re focusing on a holistic approach with teamwork to the fore.

He praised the summer camps run by STEM Learning with support of Goldman Sachs, saying these “reinvigorated” the children who had attended. He said three children said the camps had given them the motivation to learn again – and one commented “this has changed my life plan.”

Steve concluded by saying: “Genuine outreach programmes are really important – our arms are wide open for businesses to work with us, partnerships where students can get an idea of what a career pathway actually means.”

The third panellist was Paulomi Shah, Chief Operating Officer for EMEA Technology and Product Director at Goldman Sachs, who was delighted to hear Steve’s positive feedback on the summer camps. She went on to highlight social mobility, increased diversity and engagement with purpose as key focuses for them.

She explained that Goldman Sachs are constantly engaged with schools and have been an enthusiastic partner of STEM Learning - engaging in all the programmes on offer over the years. Additionally, they run a number of different programmes including robotics camps, weekly computing clubs - and also support schools in the Croydon area through their business in community programme.

She said: “There is an individual want to give back to communities – so our colleagues are always out and about in schools talking about what their job looks like. We’ve also engaged with My Skills, My Life to provide female role models, showcasing a wide range of our employees from junior through to senior level.”

She added that she thought getting children into their offices to shadow colleagues was a great way of building science capital because direct access to a role model is so important, and really resonates with young people.

She said: “Our apprentice scheme has been going for five years and our first cohort all graduated with first class honours – we were blown away by them! We’re now looking at new avenues to expand the programme – social mobility is front of mind. We know these schemes have major potential to grow.

“Our biggest challenge is getting young people to understand the breadth, depth and variety of STEM roles and getting our role models out to them as easily as possible. STEM needs to be purposeful and fun!”

Thank you to everyone for joining us - another fascinating, informative and inspiring session. Join us for the next Business Breakfast: Social Value & Employers - getting the best value from your STEM Engagement on 9th September 2021 at 9am. Click HERE to secure your free place!

If you are an employer that has been inspired by our recent business discussion and share our mission of a world-leading STEM education for every young person in the UK, whatever their background, please contact our employers team.  

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