We have launched the results of Chemistry for All – a five-year programme looking at how chemistry outreach in England’s schools can promote engagement with chemistry.
The study has shown that pupils from backgrounds with lower economic advantage are being held back by misconceptions about career options and a lack of real-world relevancy.
Our findings are published across several reports and follow a five-year programme of outreach in 23 English schools. This identified a series of barriers that predominantly impacted on children in less advantaged areas, such as a lack of relevant role models, fewer opportunities for practical learning and fewer accessible optional events. This contributed to fewer pupils studying chemistry beyond the age of 16.
The longitudinal outreach programmes, specially designed to overcome these barriers and delivered to 17 schools, showed a 46% increase in interest in the subject compared with pupils from matched schools who did not receive the outreach programme. This prompted targeted calls for action in our summary report Is chemistry accessible for all? for audiences including:
education policymakers, awarding bodies, professional organisations, and funders
schools and teachers
Director of education and professional practice Sarah Robertson said: “The results from the Chemistry for All programme are extremely promising because they clearly demonstrate that a fresh approach to outreach can transform perceptions of the science, increase interest in the subject and pupil confidence, and help young people feel more connected to chemistry as something that can help them achieve their goals in life.
“Chemistry is essential to help solve global problems, and we need talented chemical scientists in all sectors from a diversity of backgrounds to make a difference to the world.
“Our report sets out the way the Government, schools, parents and even employers can help remove these barriers that can prevent someone pursuing a career in chemistry and in doing so improving the diversity of the workforce.”
The study, carried out and reported in full by a team from the University College London Institute of Education, evaluated 23 schools with a higher proportion of free school meal provision (17 schools received the intervention programmes, six were matched comparison schools).
Director of education and professional practice Sarah Robertson Picture: Royal Society of Chemistry
Crucially, students from underrepresented groups who had attended careers-focused Chemistry for All events became more enthused about non-compulsory chemistry courses and were able to make more informed decisions about continuing with chemistry.
Professor Tom Welton, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “Studying chemistry changed my life. It took me from a council estate in north London to a world of opportunities that I could not have imagined existed. My commitment to diversity stems from the belief that these sorts of opportunities should be available to anyone, regardless of their background. Unfortunately, this new report shows that this is still not yet the case.
“Too many people’s horizons are limited purely because of where they are born and brought up. If nothing is done to address this imbalance, we face the very real possibility that your prospects of working in the chemical sciences are dependent more on your postcode than your hard work or ability.”
Professor Tom Welton, the President of the Royal Society of ChemistryPicture: Royal Society of Chemistry
Following this research, we have committed to:
Use the findings from Chemistry for All to inform a review of all RSC outreach activities, to be implemented from 2022
Share the findings widely with outreach providers and call on them to act on the recommendations
Fund next-generation outreach projects that remove socio-economic barriers
Launch an RSC “Outreach Hub” for effective outreach guidance and a growing library of resources
Celebrate high-impact outreach and engagement with new recognition mechanisms
Highlight relevant role models to put them at the heart of careers support provided via the RSC’s A Future in Chemistry resources