Earlier this year I took a new job at Northumbria University working on a project to encourage young people to see science (particularly physics) as a springboard to interesting things. There has been a lot of work recently (see the ASPIRES project) about why students don't study science. A lot of the findings appear to support the idea that students like science in primary and early secondary school, but don't see themselves 'doing science'. They have an (incorrect) idea of what a scientist is, and know that they don't want to do it.
Of course, I know that scientists don't look like this:
|Image search results for 'scientist'|
But children and young people don't. This is what scientist is according to popular culture, and on the whole this is what they DON'T want to be.
Part of the work of my project is to try to develop more of an understanding of what doing science (and STEM) might look like as a career path. We are developing case studies and careers materials showcasing people who have studied Physics to A-level and finding out where they are now, and how they got there. [Ad] These will be available on our website thinkphysics.org [End Ad].
However, one of the other things we're trying to do is to target some of our interventions at what I'm calling the 'wobbly middle'. The middle-set kids who are doing okay in science, probably going to get an A or a B. They could do sciences at A-level, but they often don't. We want them to have a successful experience of doing science so that it becomes something that they can see themselves doing. It's not that we don't want to work with the kids the school identifies as 'Gifted and Talented'* but in many ways, we feel we can have more of an effect with those wobbly middles. We're helping our partner schools to think about how they can support these students, rather than focusing exclusively on the top or bottom of the cohort*.
It's not that I want every student to study science and go into a STEM career - but I do want them to have the opportunity to do so.
* I'm hopeful that the progress-8 measure will help in some ways. It will ensure that there is a reason for the school to think about how to work with every child to improve their results, not just around the borders.