This article was originally published by Schools Week on 16 March 2023 to celebrate British Science Week.

We know that schools in challenging circumstances often face substantial barriers when trying to inspire, engage and connect young people from underrepresented groups with science.

To help schools make science more accessible for all students, we provide a range of free initiatives and resources through our CREST Awards programme and annual British Science Week campaign, both funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Here we speak to Niymet McCann, Head of Science at Regent High School in London, which supports a higher-than-average proportion of students eligible for Pupil Premium. Niymet tells us about how, in a difficult financial climate, she is making science more accessible for all students by making the most of available support and resources, including our CREST network for teachers in schools in challenging circumstances and our British Science Week Kick Start Grant.

Attribution - Niyment McCann, Head of Science, Regent High School

I have been a science teacher for many years now and have found the three biggest barriers to engagement with the subject are: representation, literacy and social background.

To fully engage and develop a love for a subject, you must feel included. Yet the lack of representation and diversity within the science curriculum can often stop students in their tracks. In addition to this challenge, the social and economic factors in a student’s life can lead to disadvantage in literacy skills and difficulties accessing resources and help at home. All these obstacles are exacerbated by the increasing financial pressures that schools and families face today.

As educators, we must understand these challenges and respond appropriately. We cannot only be teachers of our wonderful subject but teachers of literacy who engage with the whole school community, including parents and carers.

As an inner-city school serving a community of students from underrepresented backgrounds, it is incredibly important that we tackle representation head-on, diversify the curriculum and make science more inclusive.

Girl wearing hijab, white lab coat and goggle in a classroom, adding liquid to a beaker

Improving representation

The national curriculum focuses on discoveries by western scientists, often from white middle or upper-class backgrounds. This leaves many of our students feeling excluded and that science isn’t for someone ‘like them’. To combat this, we are explicitly teaching about scientists from ethnic minority backgrounds who have contributed to the field, detailing their research and scientific progress. This has helped our students relate to the learning and visualise a career in the field.

Running extra-curricular activities also provides opportunities for students to see themselves in science. For example, our KS3 Science Club has proved highly popular and effective in developing curious and inquisitive students. Last year, students built Community Air Pollution Sensors (CAPS) to analyse pollution levels in their local area. It was such an engaging project that the framework has been implemented within our KS3 curriculum for all students to enjoy.

Making science relevant

In classroom practice and beyond, it is important that we bring student’s own experience to the table and get them connecting their learning to the wider world. This helps them situate science within their own context and recognise how it’s relevant to them.

For example, we applied and were awarded a British Science Week Kick Start Grant last year, which provides funding for schools in challenging circumstance to run inspiring STEM-related activities and projects. With this funding, we were able to take our Year 7 students to visit Kew Gardens – somewhere many of our students had never visited – and participate in a workshop.

We then challenged students to design a bio-diverse rooftop garden in class during British Science Week. The Kick Start Grant supported the purchase of gardening equipment and plants for the rooftop garden, ensuring that the work could continue beyond the project timeline. Our Gardening Club now meets every Thursday to maintain this wonderful space for everyone to enjoy.

Many of our students live in flats with little or no access to gardens and have limited funds to go on scientific and cultural excursions, so this trip and the design project have provided opportunities that otherwise would not be available. I would encourage any teachers in a similar context to explore the different grants and support available and take advantage where they can.

Watch our video: Regent High School's British Science Week project

Science on a budget

There are many cost saving strategies that my team has put in place, such as the use of high-quality online practical simulations to carry out investigations which may not be feasible in the classroom. We’ve also used videos from science documentaries to illustrate places which may not be accessible to our students and we prioritise ensuring that all students receive revision books and online materials to support home learning, removing any financial strain for parents.

Finally, we are also a member of the CREST Underrepresented Audiences (URA) Network, which provides us with free access to student-led project resources as well as opportunities to network with and learn best practice from schools in similar circumstances.

We are excited to continue celebrating diversity within science and finding high-impact, cost-effective ways to engage and excite our students. In the current cost of living crisis, well-supported teachers will always adapt – it is what we do best – however this takes time which is not a commodity in a busy school.

Find out more about our support for schools in challenging circumstances

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