STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) education

NFER has long experience of successfully completing research and evaluation studies in relation to the STEM agenda. As a result, staff have an in-depth understanding of current issues and challenges for STEM and the policies and initiatives tackling these. STEM assignments have been undertaken for a range of clients including: DCSF, QCA, Royal Society of Chemistry, Royal Society, Institute of Physics, Gatsby, East Midlands Development Agency and the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT). The studies we have undertaken have included extensive consultations with teaching professionals and their pupils, employers and key stakeholders, including policy makers.

Selected projects

Evaluation of the DCSF STEM Cohesion Programme
The STEM Cohesion Programme aims to rationalise the vast range of STEM CPD, enrichment and enhancement and careers interventions and ensure investment in the most successful in order to provide improved coordination and coherence. The evaluation includes: statistical analysis; longitudinal surveys of teachers and pupils to capture soft and hard outcomes and impacts; annual consultations with partners and stakeholders; and school case studies.
Client: DCSF | NFER contacts: Suzanne Straw / Karen Halsey

Evaluation of STEMNET’s operations and impact to 2011
This ongoing evaluation includes annual consultations with STEMNET staff and key partners and stakeholders; desk research and statistical analysis; paper surveys and telephone interviews with sub-regional contractors; telephone surveys of teachers/lecturers; telephone surveys of employers; school case studies; the facilitation and support of action research projects; and annual learning workshops.
Client: STEMNET, BIS, DCSF | NFER contacts: Suzanne Straw / Iain Springate

Evaluation of ‘Starting Out’
This is a two-year mentoring pilot programme for early careers science and mathematics teachers (2009 to 2011). Through subject-specific mentoring, Starting Out aims to support trainees’ and teachers’ awareness and use of subject materials and resources, and their engagement in subject learning communities. Using a mixed methods design, the evaluation will explore the quality and effectiveness of the models of mentoring support being piloted, and the impact on mentees’ personal, professional and career development.
Client: TDA | NFER contacts: Suzanne Straw / Pippa Lord

Independent audit of activities: Bloodhound Engineering Adventure (BEA)
BEA is an education programme linked to the Bloodhound Engineering Project, the aim of which is to build a Super Sonic Car (SSC) that will break the World Land Speed Record. The audit is exploring the progress of the BEA to date including schools/colleges engagement with, and usage of, its website, SSC-themed curriculum resource materials, activities and events. The audit will inform the future development of the BEA.
Client: Royal Academy of Engineering | NFER Contacts: Suzanne Straw / Joshua Flack

Evaluation of the 2008-09 DCSF-funded Specialist Schools and Academies Trust STEM Pathfinder Programme
This was an evaluation of the STEM Pathfinder Programme (funded by the DCSF and being implemented by SSAT) which was designed to support schools to develop and implement varied approaches to STEM (including innovative curriculum approaches and enhancement and enrichment activities). The programme formed part of the government’s aim that all schools will develop a specialism by 2008 as well as the broader agenda to increase the level of STEM skills in post-compulsory education and the wider workforce. The evaluation included: an audit of school project plans; analysis of school self-evaluation data, including their comments on key learning, outcomes and school-level data; and five in-depth case studies of schools, including interviews with staff, pupils and partners.
Client: Specialist Schools and Academies Trust | NFER contacts: Pippa Lord / Iain Springate

Secondary Maths and Science HLTA research
This study investigated how these specialist HLTAs (Higher Level Teaching Assistants) are being deployed in schools in addition to exploring good practice and impacts. In addition, senior school leaders’ reasons for supporting staff members in achieving the status, and HLTAs’ own motivations to undertake the programme, were investigated. The methodology included: surveys of mathematics and science HLTAs, science teachers, heads of science and head teachers as well as nine in-depth school case studies.
Client: TDA | NFER contacts: Kay Kinder / Matthew Walker.

Evaluation of the Chemistry for Non-Specialists Training Programme
This CPD programme focuses on practical chemistry and aims to raise the confidence and expertise of non-specialist teachers teaching chemistry in UK secondary schools. The evaluation explored both the soft and hard outcomes of the programme through: a teacher survey and in-depth case studies with twenty-nine schools, including interviews with the participating teacher and heads of science, and a survey of pupils.
Client: Royal Society of Chemistry | NFER contacts: Suzanne Straw / Jennie Harland

The impact of Government policies and initiatives in increasing STEM study and employment
This study is looking at the effectiveness of UK policies and policies in other major economies in relation to increasing participation in STEM study (particularly post-16 and in HE) and employment. It includes a literature review and interviews with key international experts and UK stakeholders to identify factors that influence participation in STEM study and employment and the effectiveness of policies and initiatives designed to increase participation in STEM study and employment.
Client: NFER | NFER Contacts: Suzanne Straw / Karen Halsey

Mathematics and Science in Secondary schools: the deployment of teachers and support staff to deliver the curriculum
This research investigated how teachers and support staff are deployed within school to deliver the curriculum in mathematics and science. It included: a postal questionnaire sent to departmental heads and teachers of maths and science in 40% of secondary schools in England; a postal and telephone survey of support staff who assisted in these departments; and case study visits to 12 departments, deemed by their local authority to exemplify good deployment practices in maths or science.
Client: DCSF | NFER contact: Kerry Martin

Smoothing the transition to specialist teaching of the sciences
This research is exploring how far the current model of initial teacher training (ITT) - through courses such as the postgraduate certificate in education - meets the needs of schools in relation to teaching mathematics and physics, and how ITT might need to change or adapt in order to improve the provision of specialist teachers at key stage 4 (ages 14 to 16). The methodology includes: secondary analysis of existing survey data; primary survey work; school case studies; and focus groups.
Client: Gatsby Charitable Foundation | NFER Contact: Marian Morris / Clare Gardiner

Evaluation of Discover LabSkills
This research evaluated the effectiveness and impacts of the Discover LabSkills resource which supports Chemistry PGCE teachers and teachers more generally in their teaching of practical chemistry at AS level. The evaluation included: the administration of a survey questionnaire and the undertaking of telephone interviews with Chemistry PGCE teachers; telephone interviews with Chemistry PGCE tutors; and telephone interviews with teacher supervisors/mentors in schools.
Client: Royal Society of Chemistry | NFER contacts: Suzanne Straw / Ruth Hart

Evaluation of Spectroscopy in a Suitcase
This project formed part of the Chemistry for Our Future initiative and provided A-level and GCSE students with the opportunity to participate in experiments using spectroscopy equipment. The evaluation included interviews with school teachers and teaching staff and postgraduates from HEIs and the analysis of feedback gained from student participants.
Client: Royal Society of Chemistry | NFER contact: Suzanne Straw.

Evaluation of the East Midlands Development Agency's STEM Programme
This programme aims to support the development of STEM skills in the region and increase STEM literacy in the population through a range of high profile and innovative interventions. The evaluation methodology includes: statistical analysis; the development and testing out of a logic framework; workshops with project managers and deliverers; longitudinal surveys with participants and teachers and comparison groups; a longitudinal survey of employers; in-depth qualitative research via selected case studies; and annual project manager learning workshops.
Client: East Midland Development Agency (emda) | NFER Contacts: Suzanne Straw / Karen Halsey.

An evaluation of Chemistry for Our Future
Chemistry for our Future (CFOF) aimed to increase the number of young people choosing chemistry in HE and as a career through four key areas of activity: university and industry outreach to schools; teacher fellowships; higher education chemical sciences curriculum development; and school usage of university lab space. The evaluation balanced programme and project evaluation and used quantitative and qualitative approaches including a tracking database of young people, interviews, focus groups and case studies.
Client: Royal Society of Chemistry |  NFER Contact: Suzanne Straw / Pippa Lord

Evaluation of the Future Blogs e-mentoring scheme
This scheme provided e-mentoring to secondary school pupils with an interest in science. It aimed to support pupils through their science studies and to encourage their future participation in science higher education courses and science careers. The evaluation included interviews with pupils, teachers and programme managers.
Client: Royal Society of Chemistry | NFER contact: Suzanne Straw

An evaluation of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s careers advice and materials
This study examined how pupils make chemistry subject and career choices and evaluated the effectiveness of the RSC’s careers materials. It included a survey with 150 young people (KS3, KS4 and AS/A-level) and 60 teaching staff from 30 schools/colleges in England. Telephone interviews were also completed with other users of the careers materials including university lecturers, Connexions staff and education liaison officers from the chemical industry.
Client: Royal Society of Chemistry | NFER contact: Pippa Lord

The factors affecting A-level and undergraduate subject choice in Physics and Chemistry by ethnic group
This study investigated the influences on the decisions of young people from under-represented ethnic groups, in particular the influences of families and peer groups. The methodology included interviews with undergraduates studying physics or chemistry, and focus groups with sixth form pupils studying physics and/or chemistry.
Client: Institute of Physics, Royal Society of Chemistry | NFER contact: Iain Springate.

Increasing capacity in STEM education research
This study explored the potential of a Fellowship programme for early to mid-career education researchers in STEM. It was set within a broader context of increasing capacity in STEM education research and was intended to assist the Royal Society in its aim to ensure that the next generation of leading STEM education researchers were recruited and sustained in their careers. The research included interviews with 30 STEM education researchers across the UK.
Client: The Royal Society | NFER contact: Karen Halsey