The British Science Association (BSA) has published a report, produced by a team of volunteer economists through a partnership with Pro Bono Economics, which reveals that students who have taken a CREST Silver Award achieved half a grade higher on their best science GCSE result and were more likely to continue with STEM education, compared to a matched control group.

Quantitative evidence of the impact of CREST Awards

The report is the first independent review of its kind on the effect that undertaking practical, hands-on science projects can have on student attainment and subject choice. 

CREST Awards is the BSA’s flagship education programme, which allows 11 to 19-year-olds to explore real-world science, technology, engineering and maths by curating a unique hands-on project. It is a practical science intervention, which seeks to broaden students’ interest in science and encourage them to continue with STEM subjects. 

There are four levels of Awards in the CREST programme; Discovery, Bronze, Silver and Gold, which each require increasing amounts of teacher and student time and mentor involvement.  The analysis in this report, Quantifying CREST: what impact does the Silver CREST Award have on science scores and subject selection?, focuses on students in English state schools aged 14-16 who took part in CREST Silver Awards between 2010 and 2013.

Key findings

The report's main findings include:

  • Students who took Silver CREST achieved half a grade higher on their best science GCSE result compared to a statistically matched control group;
  • Students who undertook a CREST Silver Award were 21% more likely to take a STEM AS Level: 82% of Silver CREST students took a STEM AS Level, compared to 68% of a statistically matched control group;
  • Silver CREST students eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) saw a larger increase in their best science GCSE (two thirds of a grade) compared to a matched control group who were also eligible for FSM;
  • Students who were eligible for Free School Meals and took part in a CREST Silver Award were 38% more likely to take a STEM subject at AS Level than the matched control group;
  • Students who undertake Silver CREST have higher average GCSE grades compared to those who did not do a CREST Silver Award;

The sample for this analysis included 2.4 million Key Stage 4 students (of whom 3,800 took CREST Silver) and 1.0 million Key Stage 5 students (of whom 2,300 took a Silver CREST Award). Half (50%) of students taking Silver CREST Awards were young women.

Download the report.

Download the full data tables.     Read our press release.

Recommendations

The authors have made several recommendations for further work, including:

  • Replicating this analysis through a Randomised Control Trial;
  • Broadening it to cover Discovery, Bronze and Gold Award types; and
  • Conducting a cost benefit analysis for schools.  

The authors also made some broader recommendations:

  • Charities should ensure their data collection is as complete as possible and their Data Protection statements allow for research using their data;
  • Young people consider participating in project/inquiry-based learning programmes, such as CREST, as part of their education; and
  • The BSA consider the case for targeting CREST at students from low-income families;

Calls to action 

BSA is committed to:

  • Reducing barriers to access and targeting students from low income families;
  • Collecting robust and consistent data on the CREST Awards;
  • Continuing to work with partners across the education sector to link suitable activities to the CREST framework, offering more students and more teachers opportunities to participate; and
  • Undertaking more research, including a Randomised Control Trial.

We are asking the following stakeholders to:

Schools / educators

  • Consider introducing CREST Awards (or accredited partner activities) into science lessons or after school STEM Club – and, if you are already doing so, please help us spread the word
  • Share the evidence with Senior Management Teams and decision-makers to support running CREST in your school or college

Universities

  • Admissions staff – to ask applicants about CREST in interviews and to understand that it is evidence of interest in STEM and ability to cope with an independent, HE-level-style learning
  • Widening Participation teams – to consider introducing CREST as part of your outreach programme

Employers

  • Consider supporting schools in your area, particularly those working with disadvantaged students, to participate in CREST
  • Explore options for introducing the CREST work experience framework, and opportunities for your employees to become mentors

Policy makers

  • Draw on this evidence as support of open-ended, investigative project work as an essential part of young people’s educational experience
  • Encourage schools to make more use of successful interventions like CREST
  • Increase investment levels in outreach (to students from lower-income families and disadvantaged schools) and research

Education sector and STEM-engagement

  • Collect robust and secure data that allows for research into efficacy
  • Link activities to the CREST framework

If you are interested in working with the BSA to act on any of the above, please email us crest@britishscienceassociation.org or contact colleagues from our Education or Development & Communications Teams.

CREST definitely inspired me to work harder in STEM subjects and to aim high in further education

Jonathan, Cheshire  (Age 16 when he undertook his CREST Silver project)

If you have achieved a CREST Award during the past three decades, please contact us! We are looking for case studies of Alumni in the lead up to the CREST Awards 30th anniversary in 2016/17.