By Jane Dowden, Education Innovations Manager at the British Science Association 


British Science Week is one of the key pillars of our work towards our vision of a future where science is more relevant, representative and connected to society. British Science Week 2022 is now fast approaching, coming up on 11-20 March, and this year we awarded 216 Kick Start grants to schools to support their plans for the Week. We’re very much looking forward to seeing the events and activities that will be taking place with this funding all across the UK in the coming days.

The Kick Start grant scheme is an intrinsic part of our outreach for British Science Week, and towards the end of last year, we worked with ImpactEd to evaluate the success of the scheme. Below we summarise the findings, and steps we’re taking to reach more schools, based on the report.

What is a Kick Start grant?

Schools, community groups and members of the public are encouraged to organise events during British Science Week to raise awareness of science and scientific careers, especially among disadvantaged children who belong to groups underrepresented in science.

To increase the participation of schools that have many disadvantaged pupils during British Science Week, we award Kick Start grants of up to £700 for schools to use to run activities and events as part of their celebrations. Schools must meet certain eligibility criteria based on the school type, location and make-up of the student body to be eligible.

We have been running the grant scheme for several years now, with applications opening early in the Autumn Term, and funds being delivered to the successful schools before the end of December.

The positives of the evaluation

In 2021, we partnered with ImpactEd, an independent education research organisation, to evaluate the impact of our Kick Start grants programme on participants, organisers and the wider community. ImpactEd analysed quantitative survey data from pupils and their families participating, as well as the teacher organisers, from 2018-20. They also collected qualitative interview data from a sample of organisers.

The research highlighted a number of ways in which the grants have had a positive impact and several opportunities for increased impact in the future. Overall, teachers reported that they enjoyed their experience of organising the events, and both teachers and pupils reported that their interest in science had been increased by taking part in British Science Week. Pupils who reported having a higher level of engagement with science prior to the event, were more likely to find their interest increased by taking part.

Conversely, for the teachers organising the event, it was those who were the least interested in science before taking part who found their interest increased the most. Teachers also felt that the events they organised would have a lasting impact on themselves and their school, making them feel more confident delivering practical science lessons beyond British Science Week.

The vast majority of event organisers (97%) reported that the financial contribution of the grants was ‘very important’ or ‘essential’ to delivering their British Science Week event. The funding was used in a wide variety of ways, from purchasing specialist equipment, to funding external speakers or travel to venues outside of the school. Some schools used their grant to expand their reach by including families and the local community in their audiences, although this tends to be rarer.

Of course, it must be taken into account that for British Science Week 2020, which falls within this evaluation’s timeframe, things like working with external speakers in different venues, and involving families and communities in on-site school activities, became impossible due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions in March 2020 meant schools had to close suddenly and unexpectedly, and in-person events were cancelled. However, some teachers were able to make changes quickly, and adapted their events for online delivery.

Room for improvement

Although, overall, the report found that the Kick Start scheme has had a positive impact on the teachers and students who have been involved, it also identified a couple of key areas where there is room for improvement.

For example, while the grant scheme has been effective in reaching schools which have a high percentage of students from underserved backgrounds (47% of pupils at grantee schools were from backgrounds other than White British, compared with 37% across all state secondary schools) , the events the grants funded were less effective at attracting these students; just 36% of those who participated in British Science Week events were from ethnic minority backgrounds.

While the events raised an interest in science most with teachers who had previously had a lower science engagement, unfortunately not many teachers in this category submitted applications. Extra support for these teachers would increase the number of successful applications and expand British Science Week to their pupils. Equally, schools with low OFSTED ratings currently represent a small proportion of grantees; another area where extra support could have great results.

How we're adapting 

We’re keen to keep improving the way we reach out to, and support, schools in challenging circumstances to help increase the number of young people actively engaged with science. And so, in light of the results of this report, we made changes to the grant scheme for British Science Week 2022.

We have updated the feedback form we supply to pupils to fill in after they have taken part in their activities to include the type of event, and whether it is a compulsory activity during lesson time or an optional extra-curricular activity. This will help identify and target events which have the greatest impact.

We are trailling a pre-and post-teacher survey for organisers for the first time this year. Previously we have only collected feedback after British Science Week, but we hope that by collecting the organiser’s thoughts both before AND after the event we will be able to better identify the needs and attitudes to science of the organisers involved.

We will be providing additional support for all schools through a series of blog posts to help teachers engage with target audiences in their school, particularly pupils from ethnic minorities, SEN pupils and families. We are using expertise from our teacher network and previous grant awardees to support the development of these.

We have updated our CREST Awards grants evaluation to include matched pre- and post-surveys for students. It isn’t possible to do this for British Science Week at the current time, but we are trialling it for our CREST grants this year.

Marketing our grants to the widest possible audience is particularly important to make sure that as many schools as possible who meet the criteria are given the chance to apply. Although, regrettably, we cannot award all schools a grant, all applicants are offered the chance to join our network of teachers to share best practice in developing effective science engagement events and projects.

We’re excited to see the range of events and activities that will be taking place this year funded by Kick Start grants, and to stay in touch with schools as the impacts of British Science Week hopefully reverberate. If you have any feedback on the Kick Start grant scheme, please don’t hesitate to get in touch by emailing [email protected].