Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Teach First has today (6 Feb) launched its STEMinism* campaign, calling for change to address the gender gaps found across science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers and exploring how to encourage more girls to continue these subjects beyond GCSE.

This comes as the charity reveals that not a single woman’s name features in the national curriculum for GCSE science [1]. Additionally, in an analysis of three double science GCSE specifications from the major exam boards, only Rosalind Franklin and Mary Leakey are mentioned. This is compared to over 40 male scientists – or concepts and materials named after them.[2]  

In a report released today, Missing elements - Why ‘STEMinism’ matters in the classroom and beyond, the charity argues this has resulted in pioneering scientists such as Marie Curie being absent from public consciousness. This is supported by a poll, commissioned by Teach First, that found only half of British adults (49%) can name a female scientist, dead or alive.[3]

Teach First argues that a lack of visible role models for girls in the curriculum has exacerbated existing gender-biases, which lead to less girls choosing to study STEM subjects beyond GCSE. The charity has also revealed the problem is even greater for girls from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are seven times less likely to choose A-level physics than a boy from a non-disadvantaged background.[4]

The charity is also delighted to announce its partnership with children’s author and broadcaster Konnie Huq as an Ambassador for their STEMinism campaign through a new video. This comes as she launches the paperback edition of her critically acclaimed children’s book, Cookie! and the Most Annoying Boy in the World [Piccadilly Press], about a nine-year-old girl and her love of science.   

Konnie Huq said:

“It’s really disappointing to see trailblazing female scientists, who have changed the world with their pioneering discoveries being overlooked in schools and in the public eye. By not celebrating these incredible individuals we’re unconsciously showing girls that STEM isn’t for them. This simply isn’t good enough.

“That’s why I’m proud to support Teach First’s STEMinism campaign. It’s time to get more inspirational female role models into classrooms and celebrate schools who support girls to continue their interests in STEM subjects. Let’s break down those archaic gender barriers and create a country where every girl can achieve anything she puts her mind to.”

In the report, Teach First argues that breaking down these gender-stereotypes for girls is not only a matter of fairness, it’s an economic imperative for the country as a whole. Today only 12% of engineers are female and just 13% of STEM workers at management level are women[5], yet estimates suggest that a shortage of STEM skills costs businesses £1.5 billion a year[6]. Teach First believe the lack of girls continuing with these subjects is leading to an untapped pool of talent that could help counter the country’s STEM labour crisis. 

The charity wants urgent action to make sure every child – whatever their background or gender – has the same chance to unlock their potential.

They are calling for:

  • The extension of the 2019 curriculum fund, specifically targeted to develop resources to help schools include more women in STEM teaching. Distributing to all schools would give easier access to high-quality materials that support the content of the national curriculum and showcase examples of successful women in STEM.
  • Incentivise more STEMinists to take up the challenge of teaching in the schools where they’re needed most through pay premiums. Every school in the country should have access to high-quality, well-supported STEM teachers and role models. If we don’t solve the challenge of teacher shortages, we face a circular problem of generations of young people not gaining the skills they need.
  • Roll-out of schemes that reward schools for increasing inclusion in STEM subjects, such as Gender Action Award

Shelley Gonsalves, Executive Director at Teach First said:

“While being stuck on the question of how to get more girls to pursue science technology, engineering and maths, we’ve overlooked that there are too few women celebrated in these subjects at school for girls to see. This matters, because if girls don’t see identifiable role models it’s hard to spark their imaginations to pursue a STEM careers in future. This leaves talent unlocked, which exacerbates our country’s STEM skills shortage.

“Great teachers have an incredible role to play here, especially when given the right support and tools to make sure that there is greater representation of girls and women. We especially need to overcome the double disadvantage faced by poorer girls, by incentivising more talented people to become teachers and help their pupils thrive where the need is greatest.”

Last year, Teach First celebrated a record-breaking year as 1,735 trainee teachers started in schools serving disadvantaged communities across England and Wales. This included a 78% increase of STEM teachers, across more than 750 schools since 2015.  In 2019, 43% of the trainee physics teachers and 64% of the maths trainees needed were recruited across all teaching routes.[7]

Methodology: Savanta ComRes interviewed 2,041 British adults aged 18+ online between 11th and 12th December 2019. Respondents were asked three open questions: 1. To name the first scientist, dead or alive, that comes to their mind; 2. Those who were able to name one, were asked to name two more scientists; 3. Those who were able to name one, were asked to name three female scientists. Data were weighted to be nationally representative of all British adults by key demographics including age, gender, region and social grade. Savanta ComRes is a member of the British Polling council and abides by its rules.

*According to Teach First, a STEMinist is an advocate for more women in science, technology, engineering and maths roles that are too often dominated by men.

Teach First teacher, Kirsty Simkin said:

“Ask anyone to draw a scientist, and they’ll probably draw a man. So as a teacher, I take the time to talk about female scientists and how science resonates just as much with the stuff that girls are interested in.

“All of that makes such a difference. It’s why this campaign is so important. Because when I ask my pupils to draw a scientist, there’s both female and male drawings.  

“This shows the impact you can have with the way you teach science. As teachers, we need to be supported to do more of this. So that every child can see themselves in these subjects, and love the opportunities they provide, whatever their gender.”

Konnie Huq is one of Britain’s most loved presenters. She was Blue Peter’s longest serving female presenter from 1997-2008 and since then has gone on to present shows including The Xtra Factor, King of the Nerds and London Talking to name a few. She is also a brilliant interviewer, having given J.K. Rowling her first ever interview in 1997 and Malala and Ziauddin Yousafzai at Central Hall Westminster on the publication of Ziauddin's book, Let Her Fly. 

In 2018, Konnie signed a 3-book deal for a children’s series with Piccadilly Press. This will be her first foray into children’s books and the main character Cookie inspired by Konnie’s own childhood, her love of science and being a bit nerdy. Konnie also co-wrote the second instalment of the successful and critically acclaimed Channel 4 series Black Mirror.

She is currently an ambassador for The Princes’ Trust and the British Asian Trust.


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