Improving diversity and inclusion in STEM 

By Dr Ben Dunn, Head of Monitoring and Evaluation, STEM Learning

All STEM teachers becoming specialists by 2030, mandatory CPD and increased opportunities to study triple science at GCSE are some of the recommendations made to government to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM subjects, research organisations and industry. 

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published their evidence and recommendations on how to improve diversity and inclusion in STEM. The report, which includes evidence from STEM Learning’s Science Education in England analysis, outlines the lack of diversity in STEM, showing that women, people from certain ethnic backgrounds, people with disabilities, those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds and those who declared themselves as being LGBTQ+ were under-represented in areas of STEM education, research and employment settings. 

Diverse role models
Engagement with diverse role models allows children to see themselves as scientists or engineers, and starting with primary pupils is particularly important so children can see themselves in these role models. The report cites the work of the STEM Ambassadors programme, which has a high proportion of female, young or minority ethnic STEM role models already supporting schools and communities across the UK. 

Barriers to studying triple science
The report also highlights the impact of not being able to study triple science at GCSE – often a precursor to further progression in STEM study or careers. Schools from deprived areas are less likely to offer triple science and students who aren’t in the top sets are less likely to be offered the opportunity to choose it. There is also concern that those studying combined science GCSE are discouraged from progressing in STEM subjects – a worrying prospect given that approximately two thirds of GCSE students study combined science. 

Gender imbalance
A clear challenge from the evidence is the gender imbalance at post-16, with male entries significantly more than female entries in maths, physics and computing A levels. While Katharine Birbalsingh’s suggestion that girls don’t like the “hard maths” proved controversial, the committee provided further evidence that a more inclusive curriculum may help alleviate some of the cultural or societal perceptions of different subjects – with boys preferring maths and girls preferring arts. Despite these perceptions, more female students choose biology and chemistry A levels. 

Distinction in diversity and inclusion
STEM Learning’s work exploring the intersectionality between gender, socio-economic and ethnic background highlighted the importance of ensuring distinction in diversity and inclusion. Not all underrepresented groups face similar challenges, for example Chinese students are more likely to achieve and progress in STEM subjects compared to Black Caribbean students. The latter showing the lowest entries into physics GCSE regardless of gender or socio-economic background. 

The report proposes a number of recommendations for government to consider, including: 
  • Increasing diversity of role models for students, particularly at a young age.
  • Ensuring all students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, have the opportunity to study Triple Science at GCSE.
  • Compulsory post-16 STEM education.
  • All STEM teachers to be subject specialists by 2030. 
  • Engagement with CPD to be mandatory.
  • Increased salaries, including for physics and computer science teachers, to compete with industry.
  • Schemes to encourage STEM professionals into teaching.
STEM Learning works tirelessly to support schools, teachers and young people across the UK and is determined to champion STEM subjects and careers to all young people, regardless of their background. Tackling the causes of underrepresentation in STEM is fundamentally important to ensure a diverse STEM workforce. 

Dr Ben Dunn is Head of Monitoring and Evaluation at STEM Learning, an ASCL Preferred Supplier
Posted: 05/04/2023 09:29:49