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Barrow Hills School : Breaking The Stem Gender Stereotype


This Article is written by Sean Skehan, headmaster, Barrow Hills School in Surrey

Never before has there been a stronger push for women to opt for STEM related careers and for girls to choose STEM subjects to study. In the latest analysis of the UK labour market statistics, women make up just 12.8% of the STEM workforce and females are still chronically under-represented across all fields of science, with the UK having the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe of less than 10 percent.

STEM jobs have been growing at three times the pace of any other fields in the last 10 years in the UK. These professions have the brightest outlook in terms of job prospects and remuneration and a chance to build a better future for the next generation.

At Barrow Hills School we are actively encouraging children to consider Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths subjects (STEM) to help them access a wide choice of exciting careers.

Co-educational schools have a responsibility to inspire girls and boys to see STEM based careers as an equal option to both sexes. Girls need to be encouraged to acknowledge the relevance of STEM careers to them, while boys need to be educated to appreciate that girls are equally capable of success in STEM industries, thus ensuring the future STEM workplace is evenly represented by women and men.
With this in mind we recently held a dedicated STEM careers event at Barrow Hills School, which highlighted the benefits of working in these sectors. Designed specifically for Year 8 children, it was based on the WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) initiative, which promotes an increase in the participation, contribution and success of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – all previously male dominated sectors.

Titled ‘People Like Us’, the event provided the children with access to a panel of four speakers: Wendy Fischer, a Lab Manager for Intertek; Rachel Gray, former Sales Director of Cisco, world leader in IT; Dr Paola Coffey, a Doctor of Psychology; and Sally Whitehouse, a nurse.
The all-female panel of speakers was inspiring to the girls and also made the boys rethink their views on STEM. Designed to enable young people of all personality types and interests to see the huge range of STEM related careers available to them, our focus was on dispensing with the perceived typecasts associated with engineering or science careers.

Both boys and girls attending the event showed interest in learning about STEM subjects and it was good to see how thoughtful and sensible young people are about their future career choices. Children benefitted from completing a personality profile, which helped them concentrate more effectively on the sort of careers that would not only suit their character, but those which also deliver a sense of job satisfaction. The findings will help shape the School’s future plans to engage its children in a quality STEM programme.

In all areas of the curriculum a good co-educational school should be committed to ensuring pupils achieve the best they can, excel at whichever subjects they love or for which they have a talent, regardless of historic subject stereotyping. Whatever academic topic is being taught, we have a responsibility to encourage girls and boys to understand the benefits of working together and of recognising the potential for mixed teams to achieve more than any individual could.
One of the key benefits of this exercise has been its ability to open up the boys’ eyes to comprehending that all careers are equally open to both genders. This has helped to raise awareness among the boys of the valued role that girls can play in the work environment, discouraging the sexist attitudes that have been a feature of some STEM industries in the past.

We are now actively planning to build more opportunities into the curriculum that are key to delivering a quality STEM programme. These include incorporating ways for girls and boys to work together to solve problems and implementing cross-curricular projects where they use their Maths, Science, and DT skills to solve real problems.

A STEM qualification opens up a world of exciting career paths to follow and people with STEM qualifications are in demand. We aim to bring parents and our children’s attention to the fact that there are many opportunities to make a real difference, both at home and globally. Our younger generation is the key to unlocking this potential and we must encourage more of them to follow this route.

The STEM pathway embodies our core values of equal opportunities for all and empathy / respect for each other. At Barrow Hills we want to play a part in our economy’s future in terms of ensuring our STEM industries are represented by the most talented and creative people. Through our quality STEM programme children not only learn about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics processes and practices, beyond these STEM disciplines they also grow to deliver competencies such as collaboration and communication skills which are fundamental to success in their chosen career.


Published: March 2 2017

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