British Science Association Written evidence (EDU0089)


  1. The British Science Association is a charity that works to improve people’s connection with science. We have organised live events between scientists and the public since 1831 and, in recent decades, have sought to collect and share expertise among the science engagement practitioner community.   
  2. The BSA has three core pillars of work: education, engagement and influencing (convening stakeholders from across different sectors). The BSA’s new 10-year strategy focusses on three key objectives: for science to be more relevant to wider society, more representative of marginalised groups, and more connected in order to address structural inequities in science engagement.   
  3. The BSA provides the secretariat for the APPG on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM, runs the UK-wide educational initiative CREST Awards, the annual British Science Week, and the British Science Festival amongst other activities and programmes.  


Young people are not the problem

  1. The green and digital economies are dependent on STEM skills. Yet, many young people do not feel like science and STEM is “for them”. There is not one factor or motivator that determines a young person’s perceptions, aspirations, and attitudes to STEM.
  2. Lack of awareness of the breadth of career options that are enabled by STEM qualifications results in many young people feeling there is no point studying STEM post-16 unless they want to become a scientist or a doctor.[1]
  3. Evidence suggests that effective and impartial careers provision is particularly important for students from working class backgrounds, yet students from disadvantaged groups and those who are unsure of their aspirations have been shown to be the least likely to receive careers guidance. There is also evidence that girls experience additional barriers.[2]
  4. Research carried out by the ASPIRES 2 project, which explores the concept of “science capital”, found that the factors that shape STEM aspirations and identities in young people are “heavily influenced by existing social inequalities such as class, gender, and ethnicity”. They found that dominant representations of science as being associated with “cleverness” and “masculinity” made many young people feel less connected to science, and that the way science is represented in everyday life was influential in shaping young people's impressions of whether they were “suited” to science.[3]


Young peoples’ views on 11-16 education

  1. Future Forum is the British Science Association's (BSA) programme which gives young people a chance to have their voices heard on issues involving science. The next generation are tasked with solving the greatest challenges in our time, yet our research has found that they do not feel able to have their say on the issues affecting their future and they don't feel spoken to by politicians, scientists and other influential figures.
  2. We have run nationally representative surveys and workshops with 14 – 18 year olds to find out how they think about topics like genetics research, AI, creativity in STEM, and climate education.
  3. The Future Forum series concerned with STEM and creativity explored young peoples understanding of the jobs and skills that will be needed to drive innovation in a future digital and green economy. We found that: [4]
  4. The Future Forum series concerned with climate education (due for publication in May 2023) explored how young people learn about climate change, and how prepared they feel to contribute to a new green economy. We found that:


Key Stage 3 Science

  1. Key Stage 3 is an important stage for supporting students’ later understanding of an engagement with science. With science GCSEs being so “content heavy”, there are signs that schools condense Key Stage 3 into two years by bringing forward GCSE content. [5] This de-prioritisation can mean that classes are split between more than one teacher, and that young people are more likely to be taught by non-specialists.
  2. Additionally, Key Stage 3 is failing to build on content from Primary education, and enable young people to make connections between what they have learned at earlier stages.
  3. In Wales the Curriculum for Excellence has wider aims than the English curriculum. The Curriculum for Excellence has four "purposes", and with wider purposes more is achievable at Key Stage 3.
  4. At present in England the curriculum in science has no purpose linked to equipping students for a future economy, rather it is focused on the three disciplines of biology, chemistry and physics.


GCSE Science

  1. In their 2020 report Equity in the STEM education system, the APPG on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM (which the British Science Association provides secretariat for) identified clear issues with science teaching at the 11-16 stage, particularly in the ‘dual route’ at GCSE stage.
  2. Schools’ role in GCSE option selection is leading to inequity, especially in the most disadvantaged areas. Double and Triple Award science access varies greatly and enables exclusion to STEM A-levels and Higher Education.
  3. The UK lacks a joined-up Government approach to tackle the causes of inequity in STEM education. There is clear evidence of inequity at each stage of the education journey and Government must plan policy holistically with the input of experts, recognising that piecemeal interventions have limited effect.
  4. Recommendations from that Inquiry that are relevant to the Committee’s work are:

Practical work and enquiry

  1. The roll out of project-based learning at secondary school level and below would ensure that all children have the opportunity to participate in enquiry-based learning, both likely to improve uptake of STEM subjects in later life and improve the likelihood of young people seeing themselves as going on to careers in STEM.
  2. Ofsted’s recent ‘Finding the optimum’ report on science learning in schools revealed a large variation in the quantity and quality of practical science work taking place in schools. This hands-on learning is, as the report states, a vital part of science education. Our CREST Awards scheme, for example, enables students aged 5-19 to experience what it’s like to be a scientist or engineer by letting them take the lead on investigating and solving a real-world problem. The proportion of CREST Awards achieved by girls remains around 50% (internal BSA figures). Such practical activities develop critical thinking, analytical and teamworking skills, build confidence and embed knowledge in a way that brings together scientific concepts and topics that are relevant to their lives.
  3. Over the years the BSA has commissioned multiple evaluations of the scheme that have found CREST to have a positive impact on young people’s science identity, skills, knowledge, and confidence as well as employability skills. Evaluations of the CREST URA grants (UKRI-funded grants for schools in our Underrepresented Audiences network*) have found that:
  4. Since 2015, the Welsh Government have provided funding for all students to access CREST for free.

* a school or community group which meets at least one of the following criteria: has at least 30% of pupils eligible for pupil premium (or equivalent); has at least 30% of pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds; is located in a designated rural postcode.


Our recommendations

  1. Mindful of the current fiscal climate, we recommend that:


9 May 2023



[1] Archer, L. and DeWitt, J. (2017). Participation in informal science learning experiences: the rich get richer? International Journal of Science Education: London.

Chambers, N., Percy, C. and Rogers, M. (2020). Disconnected: Career aspirations and jobs in the UK. Education and Employers: London.

[2] Department for Education. (2017) Careers strategy: making the most of everyone’s skills and talents. DfE: London

Youth Employment UK. (2019). Youth Voice Census Report 2019. Youth Employment UK: Kettering.XXX