Evaluation of the 2008-09 DCSF - Funded Specialist Schools and Academies Trust STEM Pathfinder programme

Jennie Harland, Iain Springate, Pippa Lord, Suzanne Straw

01 September 2009

View and download the executive summary

The STEM pathfinder programme, funded by the DCSF and managed by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT), enabled and supported networks of specialist schools to design and deliver integrated science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities through a programme of continuing professional development, and provision of resources, consultancy and advice to schools.

The SSAT commissioned the NFER to undertake an evaluation of the pathfinder, and to provide: findings on the effectiveness of different activities and approaches to delivering STEM; a clear understanding of the impact of activities; and a set of recommendations and learning points that will inform longer-term developments, including a possible STEM specialism. The methodology for the evaluation comprised: qualitative baseline and end-point surveys completed by 29 of the 40 participating schools, five school case studies, and the collation of secondary data (e.g. school action plans, progress reports).

Key Findings

  • Integrated STEM activities can lead to significant benefits for pupils, teachers, schools and the wider community. There was evidence that successful activities were underpinned by certain characteristics relating to the school, the planning of activities, and the activities themselves.
  • Whilst some of the benefits can arguably also be achieved through innovative activities in individual STEM subjects (e.g. increased interest in a subject; development of skills such as independent learning), there are some benefits that are achieved only through the integration of STEM subjects in the curriculum and in enrichment activities (e.g. understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of many STEM careers and the combined application of STEM subjects in 'real-world' situations).
  • There is potential value in all schools delivering integrated STEM activities, as benefits occur when such activities are delivered as part of another existing specialism (i.e. as has been seen through the pathfinder evaluation). However, there could be more benefit if such activities and approaches are developed further through a STEM specialism, and therefore SSAT/DCSF should pursue the idea of a STEM specialism.