“It didn’t really change my opinion”: exploring what works, what doesn’t and why in a school science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers intervention

An article by Louise Archer, Jennifer DeWitta & Justin Dillon in Research in Science & Technological Education 32 (1): 35-55

This paper investigates the impact of a pilot intervention programme on girls’ STEM aspirations and knowledge-base of STEM careers. The results of the evaluation suggest that the intervention was not particularly effective at changing STEM aspirations, but had a more positive impact on improving awareness of a wider range of STEM careers and the importance of science overall.

This research presents the results from a six-week pilot STEM careers intervention in a girls’ school in London for Year 9 pupils (aged 13 and 14). The pilot programme involved an intensive careers intervention aimed at increasing awareness of the range of STEM careers, to provide practical experience of the work of STEM professionals, allow students to talk to STEM professionals and undertake an extended multidisciplinary project on STEM work. The intervention programme included: school visits to a science centre and large STEM conference, visits from STEM ambassadors and professionals, involvement in a ‘speed networking’ event and six teacher-led sessions in careers education. The research involved two lengthy questionnaires, one taken pre-intervention and the second taken post-intervention to understand how attitudes had changed towards STEM and the awareness of STEM-related careers. The questionnaires were completed and the paper shows the results of matched data for 68 pupils. Three discussion groups were held six months after the intervention with girls who had participated in the careers intervention programme, two classroom lessons were observed, and one interview was conducted with the STEM coordinator two years after the intervention.

The data did not tell a coherent story. The results from the survey suggested that the intervention had made a negligible impact on STEM aspirations: the data from pre-intervention and post-intervention questionnaires did not show a statistically significant impact. This was observed in three areas: aspirations and post-16 participation in STEM, attitudes to the subject of science in school, and perceptions or images of science and scientists. However, the results from the qualitative interviews with the discussion groups seem to present a much more positive picture, especially in terms of broadening students’ understanding of the different careers that STEM can lead to. In terms of attitudes towards science in school, the intervention did seem to have a positive impact on students who were previously disengaged. Furthermore, in terms of images of scientists, the interviews with higher attaining girls seemed to suggest that the intervention, particularly meeting STEM professionals, had changed their views on their stereotypes of scientists. Crucially, although the intervention had little impact overall on attitudes and aspirations in STEM, there was a positive message to be taken as the intervention did broaden the girls’ knowledge-base and understanding of STEM careers.

Various explanations are given as to why the intervention was not as impactful as expected. Perhaps the STEM intervention had not been designed well-enough, for example it focused on ‘high level’ jobs too much; or the research methods to evaluate were not satisfactory, for example questionnaire fatigue set in or there was not enough time for the key messages of the intervention to sink in before the pupils were asked to comment on them.

A key limitation to the study is that it takes the form of a case study of one London school, which cannot be generalised to all. A cautionary note is given by the authors: the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is not appropriate in future STEM interventions.

“It didn’t really change my opinion”: exploring what works, what doesn’t and why in a school science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers intervention