Findings from the ASPIRES study have informed a new approach to science teaching which supports more young people, from more diverse backgrounds, to engage with science – reaching over 600,000 students and informing education policy in over 20 countries.

Impacts

  • Findings from the ASPIRES project formed the basis of the Science Capital Teaching Approach, which has reached over 600,000 students worldwide via 4,000 teachers and is being taken up in 18 countries.
  • Science capital is now a criterion within the Primary Science Quality Mark for science education in primary schools – reaching 240,000 pupils and 9,000 teachers across the UK annually.
  • The concept of science capital has informed STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education policy in over 10 countries including Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Norway and Malta, as well as the UK Department for Education's Careers Strategy and 'Your Life' campaign.
  • It has also influenced science programmes in Australia (STELR education programme) and the US (Americorps STEM after-school programme), and UK initiatives including Education and Employers Taskforce initiatives, the Wellcome Trust's primary science teacher training, the Natural History Museum's 'Generate: Scientists of the Future' and others.
  • Science capital has been adopted in strategic plans for organisations such as the Science Museum Group and Winchester Science Centre, and changed outreach practice in institutions such as Glasgow Science Centre, Francis Crick Institute, Tom Tits Experiment (Sweden) and Copernicus Centre (Poland), reaching millions of visitors annually.
  • Following on from the research, STEM outreach programmes for schools have been revised by the Institute of Physics, Royal Society of Chemistry, Science Council and numerous other institutions in the UK and worldwide.

"There's been a revolution in the UK in the quality of thinking and decision-making based on the findings of ASPIRES – this improved thinking is leading to better projects and positive impact on participation and attainment." (Charles Tracy, Head of Education – The Institute of Physics)

About the research

Increasing young people's participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is a priority for the education sector, government and business sector in the UK and worldwide – not only to boost economic competitiveness, but also to support equality, social mobility and fairness. Currently women, lower-income groups and some minority ethnic communities are severely under-represented in STEM. For instance, approximately 75% of students taking A-level physics come from only 25% of schools; and only 20% of A-level physics students are girls.

The two ASPIRES projects (ASPIRES, 2009-2014 and ASPIRES2, 2014-present) form a ten-year longitudinal study that has tracked the same cohort of young people from age 10 to 19 – aiming to understand what influences their science and career aspirations. To date the research team, led by Professor Louise Archer at the UCL Institute of Education, has surveyed over 40,000 students and conducted more than 650 interviews with students and parents. The surveys revealed that despite most young people finding science interesting, only about 16% wanted to continue with science post-16 and progress to a science-based career.

"We found that the popular association of science with 'cleverness' and being 'brainy' plays a part in perpetuating inequalities in participation. These messages are conveyed not just through the media, but also through school science," says Professor Archer.

The research team developed the concept of 'science capital' – identifying all the science-related resources (or ‘capital’) that a person might have – to explain the different patterns of science aspiration and participation. These include what you know (scientific literacy and knowledge), how you think about science (science-related dispositions), who you know (social contacts) and what you do (science-related behaviours). The research showed that the more science capital a young person has, the more likely they are to continue with science after age 16 – and that gender, ethnicity and social class inequalities affect the likelihood of having high science capital.

The ASPIRES research has significantly impacted STEM education policy and practice, changing the emphasis from 'increasing interest' to 'building science capital', where teachers can use pupils' everyday experiences and demonstrate how science is relevant to all aspects of life and work. Evidence from schools implementing the Science Capital Teaching Approach showed significant increases in student science capital (particularly among the most disadvantaged students) and the percentage of young people planning to take 1+ science A levels.