University helping to spark scientific imaginations in Northamptonshire’s schools

Date 15.03.2016

The University of Northampton is playing a key role in helping to reverse a decline in the popularity of science subjects in schools.

A report by the Careers and Enterprise Company has found Northamptonshire lags behind neighbouring counties when it comes to numbers of A-level students who choose to study STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). The study revealed the county has a 13 per cent lower take up of STEM subjects compared to Buckinghamshire, for instance.

Meanwhile, research from the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) suggests interest levels in STEM subjects dip in secondary school years, with engagement in maths and science dropping by 74 per cent in girls, and 56 per cent in boys during that time.

“The way to get school children interested in STEM subjects is to catch them early and then keep offering opportunities to get them re-enthused,” said John Sinclair, Acting Dean of the School of Science and Technology at the University.

“That is why our STEM outreach and in-reach efforts at the University of Northampton cover the range from primary to A-level.”

He added: “Science and technology subjects have never been more popular here at the University of Northampton; our full-time UK student numbers have grown from 451 in 2012, to 607 in 2015 – and September 2015 also saw our highest-ever number of new students.

“Nevertheless, it is crucial that we help secure the flow of future students, both through our STEM work with schools and through adapting our offers to ensure that students who take BTEC science or technology – and who won’t be included in the Careers and Enterprise Company figures – know that we are delighted to receive their applications for study.”

In March, the University opened its doors to Year 3 pupils from 18 county schools for its latest event to inspire girls to get involved in the sciences. During the day, around 200 girls enjoyed a variety of fun STEAM-themed (STEM plus Arts subjects) workshops and demonstrations.

Teaching Assistant at Ecton Brook Primary School, Emma Carroll, accompanied some Year 3 schoolgirls to the Girls into STEAM Day. She said: “Year 3 is the key age that the University has identified as being make-or-break for girls and STEM subjects.

“If you don’t show them how fun these subjects can be, then you risk losing them forever.

“We want the girls to recognise that science is a world they are welcome in, can take part in and excel in.

“That is why we bring the girls to the University for these events, as they show them just that, and give them confidence to get involved.”

Linda Davis-Sinclair, Schools Engagement Lead at the University, added: “Our Girls into STEAM day, held to coincide with British Science and Engineering Week and International Women’s Day, is just one part of our schools programme which is designed to inspire children to be the best that they can be.

“We have added the Arts to our STEM days, as this is essential for bringing in the creativity to the sciences, and will be a key feature of our six-week summer campaign which will see around 1,500 primary and secondary aged children on campus.

“Workshops will include looking at the brain, engineering Knex challenges, why we need to look after our feet, seeing life through a thermal imaging camera and investigating DNA and bugs and germs.”

Photo of the Girls into STEAM day by Photographic student Jess Streeton