By Orna Herr, Communications Officer (Education) at the British Science Association 


As part of the British Science Association’s (BSA) mission to transform the inclusivity of science and to offer opportunities to experience practical science for all young people, we recently released primary and secondary curriculum mapping resources that will support teachers to use the CREST Awards as part of their classroom teaching. However, not all children have positive learning experiences in their classrooms. There are  a multitude of factors which play a role in shaping the course of a child’s life, but their relationship to education in their formative years is undoubtedly an important one.

In a collection of articles recently published by The Guardian, the rates at which children from ethnic minority* backgrounds were temporarily excluded from school in the 2018-2019 academic year, and the reasons why these rates can differ from those of White children, were explored. Of these findings, a particularly worrying statistic was that “exclusion rates for Black Caribbean students in English schools are up to six times higher than those of their White peers in some local authorities”.  

Government data further shows that 21.6% of children of Gypsy/Roma descent and 10.69% of Mixed White and Black Caribbean children were excluded, while the figure for White children stands at 5.80%.

It is also notable that children of Black African or Caribbean descent, through one parent or both, were excluded at a higher rate than White children, and indeed children of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi descent, in the 2018-2019 academic year.

These kinds of disparities do not end in the education system. Current data shows that certain demographics are underrepresented in the UK's science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industries. As part of its mission to transform the diversity and inclusivity in science, the BSA is the secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Diversity and Inclusion in STEM (APPG). In November 2020, prior to a report due to be published in summer 2021, the APPG released a data analysis of diversity and representation in STEM industries, which includes detailed breakdowns of ethnic minority representation.

This collection of data, similar to the Government data and statistics reported in The Guardian, shows the need to work towards higher levels of inclusion.

Of course, correlation is not necessarily causation. We cannot conclusively say that high rates of school exclusions of Black children is leading to underrepresentation of Black people in STEM industries. We can, however, say that there are clear inequalities in education and STEM employment – and that certain demographics are underrepresented in the UK’s STEM workforce. This is antithetical to our mission.

White men dominate STEM industries, making up 65% of all STEM employees – a significantly higher figure than the rest of the workforce, of which they make up 42%. The rate at which people from ethnic minority backgrounds are employed in STEM industries, meanwhile, is roughly equal to that of the rest of the workforce at around 12%.

Of the STEM industries, engineering is one where a lack of diversity is felt acutely. 93% of all employees are White (and, incidentally, 91% are men), meaning ethnic minorities are significantly underrepresented. 

However, in certain areas of STEM, groups of people from ethnic minority backgrounds are statistically overrepresented. People of Indian heritage, for example, make up 7% of the technology industry, compared to 2% of the wider workforce. Meanwhile, people of Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage are represented at a rate of 4% in the health industries, also compared to 2% of the wider workforce.

Even so, it is notable that, according to the APPG data analysis, these instances of statistical overrepresentation do not include Black people. Black people are underrepresented in almost all of the STEM industries, with the exception of health work, where they are employed at the same rate as in the wider workforce.

These sorts of figures may be a reflection of the institutional racism that remains an issue in the UK, which needs to be tackled. Ensuring all children have equal opportunities in education plays a huge role in creating a more equal society, and The CREST Awards, our flagship educational programme, could well be a part of that.   

Suitable for children of all ages, CREST Awards could be a lifeline for young people who, for whatever reason, don’t flourish in the classroom but have a passion for STEM that they want to pursue, whether at university, as a career or as a hobby. Whilst they help to boost scientific knowledge and even UCAS applications, CREST Awards can also help young people to nurture essential communication, research, independent thinking and teamwork skills, which can benefit them now and in the future. They help to give young people a sense of achievement, too, growing their confidence in their own abilities. These feelings of accomplishment can make all the difference to how a child responds to education.   

For more information about the CREST Awards, please contact us on [email protected] or via Twitter and Facebook. You can also look at our CREST resource library, which includes activities and projects spanning all areas of STEM from plant growth to aerodynamics, design and construction to machine learning.

Click here to find out about funding opportunities to run CREST Awards.

* The term 'ethnic minorities' is used in the data analysis and will therefore be used here to refer to anyone who defines their ethnicity as one other than 'White'. It is of course an umbrella term under which many different races, ethnicities and cultures reside.