Enrichment: What extra-curricular opportunities are there for students to engage with, in and out of school, and how are they encouraged to participate?
Why this is important
Informal learning can build students’ knowledge and skills and improve attainment, either through direct learning or through a change in attitude towards science and learning about it. It can stimulate interest in science and maths, as well as an appreciation of its social, cultural and historical context, and can come from a huge range of experiences (zoos, science centres, games, festivals, theatres and museums). There is much evidence of its impact:
- 41% of young people who participated in extra-curricular science stated that these experiences motivated them to study science, computer science, engineering or maths.
- 89% of students who did practical workshops at a science centre reported increased interest in science afterwards, and 60% of secondary school students achieved higher marks in a classroom assessment after visiting a museum or gallery
- In its 2013 ‘Maintaining Curiosity’ report, Ofsted , listed the best extra- curricular activities as those that “complemented learning by extending students’ experiences”, including extra experiments, projects and visits to scientific organisations.
Independent research projects (IRPs) are another form of enrichment. They are often done outside school hours, in science clubs, and through research placements and summer schools. Students doing IRPs are sometimes supported by a mentor from university or industry
Research for Wellcome found independent research projects delivered the following benefits:
- gains in students’ learning
- improvements in students’ attitudes to science
- increased numbers of students considering careers in science
- particular benefits for students from traditionally under-represented backgrounds
- making students more aware of a broader range of careers in STEM
- helping students develop a range of higher-level qualities including independence, self-esteem, tenacity and a sense of scientific identity.
The CREST Awards scheme is a British Science Association programme that provides science enrichment activities to inspire and engage 5-to-19-year olds. Students have the chance to participate in hands-on science through investigations and enquiry-based learning. It can be run in schools, clubs, youth groups, other organisations or at home. It is the only nationally recognised accreditation scheme for project work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
An evaluation found that students who were eligible for Free School Meals and took part in a CREST Silver Award were 38% more likely to take a STEM subject at AS Level than a matched control group, and saw an increase of two-thirds of a grade above a matched control group.
STEM Learning can help connect schools with STEM ambassadors – a network of science and maths related professionals willing to support schools in a range of ways, from assemblies to running science clubs. Impacts of engaging with ambassadors include:
- teachers better able to relate STEM lessons to real world applications of the subjects
- students: increased enjoyment of, interest in, and knowledge of STEM subjects; increased awareness of careers that involve STEM; and increased interest in studying STEM subjects post-16 or in higher education.
The 2016 Science Education Tracker survey of 14- to 18-year-olds in England found that:
- 30% had participated in an extra-curricular school science event
- 20% had listened to a talk at school from a STEM ambassador or someone in a science-related job
- 9% had participated in a Big Bang Fair or other science fair/event
- 8% had attended a STEM club
- 20% had visited a science museum or planetarium in the previous 12 months
- one third of these visits were with their school
Ideas for improvement
- Governors should be aware of how much extra-curricular activity is going on in the school. It can be useful for governors to use their own professional networks to promote these experiences, for example, by carrying out an audit of governors’ links with businesses and universities and other STEM organisations.
- Your school is very likely to have someone responsible for co-ordinating outside visits and speakers as part of a whole school policy, and it may be worth asking your headteacher to find out more about what’s on offer.
School leaders may find the following ideas useful:
- Teachers have many competing priorities for their time, but you might like to discuss the potential benefits of STEM clubs with science leaders. STEM Learning can help schools set-up and run clubs.
- The British Science Association offer CREST awards to recognise students’ achievement in STEM projects outside of the classroom.British Science Association offer CREST awards to recognise students’ achievement in STEM projects outside of the classroom.
- The STEM Ambassador website has useful information on engaging with science and maths related professionals.
- Competitions run by a range of organisations (e.g. the Royal Society of Chemistry, Society of Biology, Rolls Royce Science Prize, UK Mathematics Trust) can help engage students with science and maths.
Outside the classroom:
- Students can benefit from science learning experiences outside of school, for example visits to science centres and museums or trips to science fairs, many of which are free, for example the Big Bang Fair.
- Most universities have ‘access’ and outreach programmes to encourage a diverse background of applicants. To find out more, visit the university’s website or search the web for ‘[university name] widening participation’, for example, ‘UCL widening participation’.