The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Inclusion and Diversity Fund have granted Wellcome Genome Campus Public Engagement the maximum funding available to develop and deliver a programme for teachers to address issues of unconscious bias and stereotype threat in the primary school STEM classrooms.

Lead by Public Engagement’s Education Development Lead, Francesca Gale, this project brings together several experts and key organisations: Dr Saher Ahmed, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the Wellcome Genome Campus; Alex Farrer, Head of STEM at Wimbledon Girls School; Dr Peter Jones, a chartered psychologist and scientist specialising in implicit bias; and the Primary Science Quality Mark.

What is unconscious bias?

Project ambition

The ‘Science is for everyone’, Unconscious Bias training for Primary schools’ project will develop and deliver a teacher toolkit and training session for teachers to address issues of unconscious bias and stereotype threat in the classroom, its impact on children’s science capital and their attitude to careers in science including chemical science and the biomedical field.

The project started in June with the pilot group of eight schools in Cambridgeshire, with whom Public Engagement are already working, supporting them through the Primary Science Quality Mark.

Working with primary schools from a range of different schools in the UK, the team will identify problems in this area though discussing their own experiences and observations. These discussions will provide the basis for developing evidence-based training materials for the toolkits, which will include:

  • Newly developed bespoke Primary School STEM bias tests around gender and ethnicity and classroom resources that encourage teachers to set challenges that build science capital and encourage non-stereotypical experiences.
  • A primary school focused de-biasing checklist of key processes (such as lesson planning, library stock, teaching resources, the use of online teaching resources, imagery around school, guests in school, school trips/visits, and equal representation of male and female scientist role-models).
  • Career cards for students and teachers highlighting diverse and gender-balanced roles in the chemical sciences as well as the relatable skills and characteristics of the individuals in those roles.
  • Case studies based on teachers’ own experiences of teaching chemistry and other science topics and observations of unconscious bias in primary schools.
  • Training session for our local Primary Science Quality Mark cluster

These will be piloted from this autumn term (September 2019), and their effectiveness will be evaluated over 12 months, to see if there has been a recognisable and identifiable shift in culture in the schools.
This pilot will provide the initial foundations to start a much bigger regional and then nationwide initiative. If everything goes according to plan, the team will then look to expand the trial of the pilot programme to 25 schools using the established network of the Primary Science Quality Mark schools, and ultimately to disseminate the toolkit and training to schools across the UK.

  1. Primary school class doing STEM

Why is this project important?

Research shows that a shortage of women working in sciences and technology could be exacerbated by gender discrimination taking place early on in life. In a 2018 survey conducted by Accenture, 5000 young people, teachers and adults responded, with 67% of teachers admitting that they had made unconscious stereotypes about girls and boys in relation to STEM subjects. Children are already being influenced by gender-based beliefs as early as 4 or 5 years old, but teachers can play a key role in challenging these narrow views in the classroom before they become too entrenched. There is also an impact on the gendered expectations and awareness of career choices that starts as young as 8 years old. Boys are more likely to be interested in in jobs related to the physical sciences and girls in those related to health/biological sciences.

A recent study from the National Education Union and UK Feminista has also highlighted that sexual harassment, sexist language and gender stereotyping are commonplace in school settings. Over a third (34%) of primary school teachers say they witness gender stereotyping in their school on at least a weekly basis, and over half (54%) say they witness it on at least a termly basis.

There are very limited resources on unconscious bias and stereotype threat associated with STEM targeted at primary school level, and to date there has been no national co-ordinated effort in this area. The tools developed as part of this project, and the aim to roll them out nationally, should have a significant impact on the way that young children are informed about STEM subjects. Making teachers aware of unconscious bias will enable them to reflect on their practices and the practices of their organisations and start a culture shift that will ultimately work to broaden childrens’ perceptions of chemical and biomedical science and their potential careers within in this field.

Work at the primary school level is key to nurture and enable the diverse talent pipeline to flourish, which will then positively impact on choices that young people make in relation to the STEM careers. We are very proud and excited to be doing this and hope that this initiative will have a positive impact on many young people.

Francesca Gale, Education Development Lead, Wellcome Genome Campus

What is stereotype threat?

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