Written by Dr Rebecca Dewey, British Science Association Media Fellow, funded by University of Nottingham


“Inspiring the future”, is a new initiative launched at the British Science Festival. The partnership between L’Oréal UK & Ireland and the charity Education & Employers, aims to combat early gender stereotyping of children studying science, as evidence has shown that intervention can positively affect attainment. The initiative, personally supported by British Science Association Chief Executive Katherine Mathieson, brings together scientific and teaching expertise to link female science professionals with 50,000 primary school children.

The scheme is the brainchild of Vismay Sharma, managing director of L’Oréal UK & Ireland, and Nick Chambers, former secondary school teacher and CEO of Education & Employers. Their model is simple: A woman goes into a primary school and does an activity with the children for an hour or so. One example given was a game called “What’s my line?”, where children have to ask questions to help them guess the occupations of a panel of 5 women. In this way, 90 or so children can participate at once. Activities for smaller groups could be talking through how science is relevant so real life career options, or trying to design a new product. Through this, young children will absorb the excitement of the scientist and realise how fulfilling careers in science can be.

The call for volunteers has only been out for a few weeks and already over 170 female scientists have pledged their support. The objective is now to get as many women as possible to sign up so that over the next four years, 50,000 primary school children will take part. The scheme will provide support for volunteers to design and prepare for their session activity. They also emphasise making the scheme as free and as easy possible for schools to participate in. Nick explains: “It will be like online matchmaking for teachers to find scientists.”

Many schemes exist to facilitate scientists volunteering in secondary schools, but is this too late? Programme advocate and cognitive neuroscientist Gina Rippon tells us, “there is evidence that there is even greater value in career interventions earlier on. Children will get to see women at different stages of their career, doing different types of science. If we do this enough, it becomes normal to them from a young age.”

Results from a recent YouGov survey show the impact on attainment: “Children were more motivated to work hard after meeting these amazing women and seeing the jobs they did. They were no longer being told ’you’ve got to enjoy science’ but are now thinking ’I want to be like her’.” A recent project run by the Institute of Physics also saw increased applications to physics related degree programmes following the use of similar interventions with female students in secondary schools.

Shakila Bik, L’Oréal Scientist and participant in the new programme described her recent positive experiences of delivering activities such as designing a shampoo bottle and talking about the properties of hair, adding, “we need to ensure that kids get to see as big a range [of scientists] as possible to see the possibilities of using science and working with L’Oréal.

The audience were shown a video of the children enjoying sessions offered by the programme, with one beaming little girl delivering the key message loud and clear: “Men and women are equal and everyone should have a chance to do science.” Hear hear!

Schools, colleges, volunteers, employers and professional bodies can find out more information at www.inspiringthefuture.org

For more information on the British Science Festival visit: https://www.britishsciencefestival.org/

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