INSTEM - United Kingdom




1st INSTEM National Workshop UK


On the 1st of October 2013 the INSTEM project, in cooperation with the FP7 Mobilising Mutual learning SiS Catalyst project and the NEON Network organised a one day event in the Royal Society of Chemistry, in London.  


"How can we widen access to STEM higher education disciplines?"


Aims of the meeting

  • Provoking thoughts
  • Find ways to feed into the European picture. There is a 'window', an opportunity: take up the chance to fit in the Horizon2020 vision
  • Come up with a UK (England) policy position focused on RRI and Horizon2020
  • Alignment of agendas and programmes to come to joint solutions and to have a voice in Brussels


Comments and feedback from the event to feed into:

EC – via ProcoNet network

World Congress

SiS Catalyst; Lodz and PPI Conference in Ghent

INSTEM national case study.



An increase in the number of young people enthusiastic, highly motivated and well qualified to study STEM subjects at a tertiary level will have a positive impact on our national competitiveness and economy, it will also be a vehicle for increased social inclusion and mobility.


Possible areas for national policy recommendations:


1. From primary school to university: as children are on a learning journey from primary to higher education, there is a pressing need to align agendas between the different sectors of the educational system. Explicit transition work goes on in lots of schools. Eng and maths are examined whereas science no longer is. Is the answer to bring back a science exam? Not convincing, however because E and M were retained as exams this ends up with science being less of a priority for primary schools. Why? Because accountability is driven by league tables and Ofsted inspections which are primarily about data associated with KS1 and KS2 SATS scores.


2. Celebrating children's achievement: IBSE (Inquiry based learning) was recognised as a very useful pedagogy for gaining scientific concepts and understanding. However it is seen as more difficult to assess. The current focus on assessment rather than learning is squeezing IBSE out of the classroom. It would be helpful to see the research that shows that IBSE is a useful pedagogy. If we want to argue for it to be more prevalent then this is essential. Perception is that is akin to how scientist work in order to justify it having a wider role.


3. Girls are important but it's not just about them: Inclusive Excellence develops the concept of diversity to include other locally defined minorities. This requires knowledge of the target audience. And these minorities are tracked a lot now – looked after children, various levels of special needs, school action pupils, high middle and low achieving pupils, girls vs boys, gifted and talented, - all have their achievement i.e. attainment and progress, analysed independently. If just one group’s achievement is below National average this precludes a school being judged as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.


4. Is it all down to schools? The individual child may meet a variety of 'other players' in the STEM educational journey, what is their role and how does that support/contribute to the formal education system?


5. Aligning research agendas: STEM and social inclusion overlap in the provision of targeted outreach activity, is there a way to align these research agendas? Specifically in the concept of Responsible Research and Innovation as crosscutting theme of Horizon 2020.


6. Primary, secondary ..... tertiary: as a young person progresses through the education system, what is the role of higher education as a driver of the change within the primary and secondary educational systems?


7. Let's put all the goodies in a basket: there are a lot of initiatives nationally, regionally and institutionally, which are seeking to achieve the same ends. However there is no common framework for this work. And also let’s get serious and meaningful links between higher education researchers and teachers!




2nd INSTEM national workshop

The second UK national INSTEM workshop has been held at the University of Exeter. This followed on from the first meeting in London in the Royal Society of Chemistry organised by the National Education Organisation Network (NEON) and Graeme Atherton.

The Exeter workshop was organised and delivered by UK members of the INSTEM Project, namely Tricia Jenkins and Michela Insenga from the University of Liverpool, Lindsay Hetherington and Alun Morgan from the University of Exeter and Martin Dixon from Bodmin College. The workshop, chaired by Dr Dixon, involved the participation of: a University of Exeter Public Engagement specialist, local teachers, STEM project managers, a regional Teacher Advisor for STEM (Cornwall), a representative from a regional provider of Informal STEM education (@Bristol), and, crucially, year 10 and 12 students from Bodmin college.

The event began with a presentation of the WP5 state of the art report and its recommendations delivered by the University of Liverpool team, which participants endorsed with enthusiasm. A further presentation entitled ''strategies to implement IBL activities in the classroom (and beyond). Evidence from research'' was delivered by the Exeter team. The main part of the meeting was given over to discussion in three smaller ‘break-out’ groups followed by a Plenary. Main areas for discussion were the implementation of IBL in the classroom: Is it an effective way of teaching science? Which role does teachers' confidence and the involvement of children's voices play in the design, delivery and dissemination of activities.


Main ideas and reflections from the discussion groups:


Teachers' perspectives


  • Highly enthusiastic about IBL activities in the classroom but at the same time concerned to ensure that pupils are covering the necessary material and make the required number of levels progress (as these are linked to Ofsted targets and league table metrics and also impact on teacher’s performance related pay).


  • Skill lies in fitting the content into and IBL structure.


  • Many teachers are not entirely convinced that IBL is one of the best ways of teaching. Some teachers prefer deductive methods, as they feel is more straight to the point. Is this because they have been taught in this way?


  • Needs a school/department where teachers’ feel able to/have permission to ‘go off-piste’.



Students' perspectives



  • Having been involved in practical activities during a lesson makes the students feel ''part of the lesson'' and it helps stick concepts in their minds. Quote: ''It makes a difference. Teaching yourself and sharing knowledge with your friends rather than just listening to the teachers'' makes the lessons much better. Pupils like the idea of ‘explaining’ – also with graphic or visual representations - need to be kept interested – as it helps ideas to stick in their minds.
  • Much discussion of Ofsted and in particular noted by students is that if teachers are being observed then what they do is actually more restricted/constrained. Pupils felt that assessment within IBL could be arranged in such a way that they wouldn’t feel like they were being assessed.


  • Pupils noted that it would be useful to include voices and perspectives of especially the youngest children, because they have fewer opportunities to express their voices - in comparison to older students through A-levels and traditional assessment methods...

  • Students found that there is an assumption that subjects such as English are more creative while Science and Maths are more factual. Students would like to make the most of IBL because it shows a more creative side of science.


  • It is also important to have visual representation or demonstration of theories and notions explained by the teachers during lessons.


  • Students from Bodmin College express their opinions through feedback sheets to the teachers. This is important because teachers can learn what works for them and what doesn't.


  • Many students would like to bring art into science, taking an interdisciplinary approach rather than a linear approach to education; something like drama applied to STEM, they think it would help engage all the pupils in a classroom regardless of their learning styles.


  • Students were positive about the notion of peer learning, or a structure in which some learning is ‘taught’ and some is ‘independent’. In relation to peer learning, felt that some teachers assumed they would go off task and talk about other things, but often they felt that through talking with peers they could then both ask the teachers questions if needs be.


Overall reflections


From an overall perspective, children like to learn creatively, and sometimes they make suggestions to teachers in this regard. Pupils think that have their voice heard within the education system is important mainly because

1. This is the way to engage all pupils with education during their learning journey

2. They have the possibility to feedback to the teachers, making clear what has worked for them and what hasn't.

3. Perspective on IBL: good overall but students are concerned of their grades; (they want to ''get it right'', so sometimes they prefer to ask questions to the teachers as they want to get the right answer (main concern is to get the right answers)

4. There is a need of a mixture of content and skills

5. Dialogue between researchers, teachers and policy makers needs to be improved. People felt that clear research summarising the benefits of IBL as a result of proper scientific trials would be incredibly useful.