We held our first expert roundtable discussion on the topic of the inquiry on Monday 20 May, with participants from Government, educational charities, business and policy. The discussion was chaired by Baroness Brown of Cambridge, and there is a list of those in attendance and the themes discussed in the meeting below.






Association for Science Education






British Science Association



Department for Education



Drax Group



Drax Group



Engineering UK



Institute of Engineering and Technology



Institute of Physics



Kakou CIC









Researchers in Schools



Roehampton University



Royal Academy of Engineering



Royal Society of Chemistry



St Michael's Youth Project



STEM Learning



University College London



University of Cambridge, Royal Society



University of Reading



Villiers Park



Wellcome Trust

Challenge structural inequalities

  • There is stark gender imbalance in STEM A-Level uptake: girls make up 12% of Computing, 22% of Physics and 39% of Maths A-Level cohorts.
  • Selection criteria, particularly in Computer Science and Physics, can exclude students from minoritised groups.
  • The inequities of the STEM education system reflect structural inequities across society; such as, stereotyping, bias in access to services, healthcare and employment discrimination.
  • The way curricula and other educational programmes are framed and designed has implicit racism, bias, and narrowness that constrains what people think they can get involved in.
  • Inequities exist beyond education, so that people who manage to get through STEM education are still affected in the world of work. The Social Mobility Commission investigated the experiences of BME people (see page 45) going into work and found that they faced significant bias.
  • Over the summer holidays, children from poorer backgrounds are less likely to take part in enrichment activities, and this can further increase the learning disparity. In other countries, low cost childcare enables this enrichment much more frequently.
  • These structural inequalities need to be addressed at a broader level than just looking at formal education.
  • In addition, STEM education should challenge these structural and societal inequalities.
  • STEM education is now a major help in terms of social mobility, so if people are excluded from that, they’re excluded from social mobility.
  • Large numbers of people don’t go to university and we need to ensure that these routes to further education are equitably provided. Higher level apprenticeships are taken up in large part by people from wealthier backgrounds, while people from poorer backgrounds are streamed into lower level apprenticeships. Crossrail’s apprenticeship scheme is an example where this has been effective and young people from poorer backgrounds have been the focus of all apprenticeships.
  • More information is required on how disabled people are excluded within the education system.
  • The biggest problem with provision is when it comes to STEM subjects. STEM and science events are generally provided to students with high STEM capital. We need better targeting to reach underrepresented groups and address this issue.

Frame science for everyone

  • The word ‘science’ is a barrier to participation for many people – for instance, ‘beach trips’ are more exciting than ‘science trips to the beach’, particularly for 13-16-year olds.
  • The curriculum can prevent a more attractive framing of science – primary schools fit STEM into investigative play, and keeping that enthusiasm going requires careful management.
  • The Institute of Physics will be conducting a randomised controlled trial on its approach to whole-school gender stereotyping to include 160 schools.
  • Science lessons need to be more relevant to other interests that young people have. Starting from students’ questions and empowering an investigative approach is effective in broadening engagement.

Improve careers advice

  • Careers advice should support people from excluded groups to consider STEM careers and engagement. Attrition at the end of GCSEs and A-Levels is partly due to poor provision of careers advice.
  • A lack of time and the focus on examination prevents teachers from providing an adequate overview of STEM careers. We don’t collect a long term view of where students end up.
  • The Government is working to link the National Pupil Database with the Longitudinal Education Outcomes data to build a better idea of how diversity characteristics influence progression into careers.
  • The Gatsby Benchmarks for Good Career Guidance state that by the age of 16, every pupil should have had a meaningful encounter with providers of the full range of learning opportunities, including sixth forms, colleges, universities and apprenticeship providers. This should include the opportunity to meet both staff and pupils. By the age of 18, all pupils who are considering applying for university should have had at least two visits to universities to meet staff and pupils.
  • In addition, every year, from the age of 11, pupils should participate in at least one meaningful encounter with an employer.
  • Many businesses including Drax Energy are keen to invite young people to visit and experience their workplace.

Broad and balanced curriculum

  • STEM subjects should go alongside other subjects and be seen as part of the core of education.
  • STEM attainment is closely linked to areas of proficiency in other parts of the curriculum, for example: English literacy, logical reasoning, research skills.
  • In the North-East of England, only 42% of young people take three or more A-Levels, compared to 57% in the South East.
  • Breadth of curriculum is also inequitably distributed by wealth. Less than 30% of students receiving free school meals took three or more A-Levels, compared to 54% of students not receiving free school meals.

Recruit teachers and support schools

  • There is a shortage of teachers, particularly in Maths across schools
  • Black Caribbean students were expelled three times as often as white students. Science lessons are often immersive and practical, and missing even a single lesson can set students back significantly. This puts young people off further STEM study, and we need to support schools to address inequitable exclusion.
  • STEM subjects frequently use analogies which rely on a specific cultural understanding which is not always comprehensible for students. Analogies should be chosen that relate to the real lives of students.
  • Government has set up the National Computing Centre for Education in partnership with STEM Learning, BCS and Raspberry Pi, and this aims to upskill and train as many as 8,000 new teachers in quality Computer Science teaching.
  • Interventions should be tested systematically with robust evaluation methods.

Coordinate educational interventions

  • There are many STEM education interventions being conducted by a variety of organisations across sectors. These should be coordinated to ensure that they are based on the latest evidence and avoid wasteful overlap.
  • The cultural and voluntary sectors are commonly picking up this slack and this also needs to be coordinated.
  • We need to conduct further research into the efficacy of different formats of educational interventions and coordinate the dissemination of the results to the broader community.
  • Many existing interventions were designed many years ago and are not suitable for engaging with diverse groups. More thought is required about how to design programmes that engage with people from different backgrounds, and the impact of these programmes needs to be thoroughly tested.