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


CREST Awards, the British Science Association’s (BSA) education programme, plays a key role in helping us achieve our mission and vision of a future where science is more relevant, representative and connected to society. It encourages and supports science, technology, engineering and maths education (STEM) of young people aged 5-19.

One of the primary tenets of the CREST Awards is that it is accessible to all, regardless of socio-economic background, or indeed anything else. There is a small fee to run CREST Awards, which is essential to fund our work. However, for some schools in challenging circumstances, this fee can be a barrier to their pupils and students being able to receive official accreditation from us for their projects.

To help overcome this, we offer grants of up to £600 to schools and community groups who work with young people from audiences traditionally underrepresented in STEM to allow them to run CREST Awards. In order to continue to develop our grants programme, we commissioned an independent evaluator to assess its effectiveness, and the impact it had on organisers and young people.

The overview of the evaluation

During the 2020-2021 grant scheme we gave out a total of 92 grants to schools and organisations, supporting 50 primary schools, 27 secondary schools and 15 community groups. More than two thirds of the grant recipients had not run CREST before in their setting, and the grant scheme enabled an extra 3312 young people to achieve a CREST Award last year!

The grant also benefited teachers by supporting their teaching, and allowing them to fund new resources for activities.

One said:

“It has made me more confident in the planning and teaching of science, and using questioning to assess children’s learning.”

Another answered:

“I’d had two separate grants and put on really good events because you’re able to buy things. Coming from an area that has high deprivation, and these children are in a special needs school, it is a massive thing for them.”

The benefit to non-school organisations

An area the evaluation particularly focused on was the benefits of the grant to non-school organisations, such as community groups, as there are many advantages of using the CREST Awards scheme in these settings.

Community group objectives often focus on self-development, building skills and self-confidence, and CREST can align really well with these types of goals. The mixed age range of community groups means older children can share their experiences and build the aspirations of younger children.

Leaders are often very familiar with the young people in their groups, allowing them to tailor their explanation of what CREST is, and how the young people could benefit from doing a project, in a way that appeals to them. The research also found that for community groups, the certification aspect of the CREST Award is important for users to enhance their CVs, as well as build their science identity.

The evaluators spoke to two community groups to hear about their experiences; One Voice Blackburn, ‘a charity that aspires to create cohesive, aspirational, and confident communities in the Blackburn with Darwen’, and Inspire Motivate Overcome (IMO), a charity with a core mission to ‘help local young people and their families to combat disadvantage’, also based in Blackburn.

Zaffer Khan, Chief Executive of One Voice, said:

“The young people we work with are from the age of six to 19 and have South Asian parentage background. They are very aspirational. We have one young person who has achieved the Gold CREST Award. She now runs this programme with our organisation.”

He added One Voice would absolutely be using CREST going forward: “It will be the bedrock of what we are trying to do in terms of STEM.”

Yaseen Patel, the Sports and Development Lead at IMO, said:

We are doing all this science and even though they have a record of their learning and we have a rewards system, the youngsters and their families don’t always recognise it as science. We explain that this is all science. The CREST Awards programme will help us to reinforce that message and, through certification, share the message with our youngsters wider family members.

Barriers to engagement 

The community groups also identified barriers to running STEM, which we hope to work to address.

One Voice explained that, as they have 270 young members, finding the resources to allow them all to do a CREST Award is a challenge. They are hoping to expand their staffing to help.

IMO reported that they can struggle with comprehending the detailed programme materials, saying that if they can’t understand it, they can’t teach it to others. Yaseen said:

“The CREST Award scheme could produce some videos to explain the requirements for each award, rather than having to read through everything. Or even simplify the instructions, less text, more space, increased fonts would help.”

In response to the research, we have set up a buddies programme to support teachers and community group leaders who are new to CREST. We are training and matching 10 teachers or group leaders with experience of delivering CREST with new grant awardees. We are continuing to support community groups with grants to deliver CREST and have developed our pre- and post-evaluation to capture changes in their science identity.

Getting CREST started and established in a community group may take longer and require more support, but this audience is one we are very keen to grow. Once leaders have experience of delivering CREST and it can be shown to work, there are many benefits for delivering it in this context and we hope groups decide to continue to participate.