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Schools 'should encourage broader participation in extracurricular science activities'

01/09/2017 Joanna

School students from diverse backgrounds should all be offered more opportunities to take part in science-based learning beyond the classroom, a new study has concluded.

Research from University College London has indicated that British pupils from less privileged backgrounds are generally far less likely to participate in informal science learning experiences, such as school trips and museum visits - a trend that is undermining current efforts to increase and broaden science engagement among young people.

The study assessed survey data from almost 6,000 UK secondary schoolchildren aged 11 to 16 from communities with traditionally low science engagement, in order to ascertain how often they were getting involved in extracurricular science learning.

It was found that more than half of the surveyed students had never been on a science-related school trip, while nearly 70 per cent had never had a visitor talk on science. This is despite the fact that strong levels of interest in science were recorded among these students.

Possible obstacles to greater participation in these activities include a focus on targeting higher-attaining students, the high cost of providing school trips and the pressures of high-stakes testing, all of which may be driving inequality in attainment levels.

However, the fact that so many of these students are still interested in science-based activities suggests that school-led efforts to broaden engagement would be well-received, and that schools could therefore still play an important role in encouraging interest in science among traditionally marginalised groups.

Dr Jennifer DeWitt, a co-author of the study at University College London's Institute of Education, said: "We would encourage schools to ensure that science-related extracurricular activities, including school visits, are targeted to reach all students, not just those in the 'top' sets, to avoid reproducing existing inequalities.

"We would also urge places like science museums and science centres to broaden their offer, so that a wider range of individuals - not just those from privileged backgrounds - can feel welcomed and comfortable there."

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