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Taking Teachers Out of the Classroom is Key to Widening Girls’ Participation in Science

Following a trailblazing project, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is recommending that in order to get more girls to study science, engineering, technology and maths (STEM), we need to take teachers out of the classroom to spend more time with local businesses.

The BCC School and Business Partnership pilot project, a collaboration between the Government Equalities Office and Chambers of Commerce, was launched in May 2014 and has now completed its initial stages. The project has engaged almost 1,500 female students and brought together 38 businesses and 37 schools to promote STEM subjects and careers to girls, aged between 13 and 15 years.

Research shows that STEM skills shortages are prevalent in the UK and that there is a shortfall of around 20,000* STEM graduates each year. At present, women represent only 13%** of the STEM workforce, leaving an untapped pool of talent that could help to address persistent skills shortages.

The initiative, delivered by five Chambers of Commerce in Plymouth, Hertfordshire, North East, Staffordshire and St Helens, sought to raise young women’s aspirations in STEM through interactions with local businesses.

Following the successful pilot, the BCC and Government Equalities Office will publish a full report on the School and Business Partnership programme in the autumn, which will be available to schools across the country. This will set out key recommendations for schools to consider, including:

  1. Taking teachers out of the classroom and putting them into a business environment: Schools should cater for teachers and careers advisers to spend time out of the classroom at training, mentoring and business networking to improve their understanding of local labour markets and the careers information that is passed onto students.
  2. Allowing for businesses to be involved in lesson plans: Lesson plans, produced in partnership with businesses, can help to improve the focus in schools on equipping young people with skills and knowledge about their local labour market.
  3. Promoting direct engagement between business leaders and pupils: Schools can help young people prepare for work by enhancing their skills and knowledge through business visits and setting up direct engagement between businesses and pupils. Hearing directly from business, through visits, talks and presentations, is the best way of inspiring and motivating pupils.

Nora Senior, President of the British Chambers of Commerce, commented:

“There is an on-going gender imbalance in the study of STEM subjects and the make-up of the workforce in the science and engineering industry in the UK. It is therefore important that business plays its part in forging closer links between educators and students to increase their awareness and interest in STEM subjects and the types of rewarding careers that these studies can lead to.

“The results of the pilot scheme were encouraging. Over the course of the pilot we engaged with almost 1,500 female students, the vast majority of whom would now consider a career in science, technology, engineering and maths. It wasn’t just the girls that benefited. Businesses said the programme supported staff development and helped put them in touch with potential future employees. Schools said businesses added value to their lessons, helped motivate their students and helped their careers advisors to better present the range of options open to pupils.

“The Chambers of Commerce network in the UK has over 2,500 education and training providers in its membership and is working to bridge the gap between the worlds of education and business, to tackle the stubborn youth unemployment rate and ensure businesses have the skills they need.

“We hope that our groundbreaking School and Business Partnership programme opens up new horizons for girls thinking about their future careers and ensures businesses have access to all available talent, not just those with a ‘y’ chromosome.”

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