Schools should run after-school or lunchtime science clubs to encourage children from poorer backgrounds to engage more with science, new research has shown.
Secondary pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to choose to study science subjects beyond GCSE level, according to a research paper written by academics from the University of London's Institute of Education.
But, they add: "While various factors can be identified as associating with students’ studying intentions and choices, it remains somewhat unclear what educators can practically do in order to increase the numbers of students who might study science."
They carried out research with 4,780 Year 7 and Year 8 students in 25 schools in the East Midlands, North West, South East and West Midlands.
Across the schools, 42 per cent were eligible for free school meals – compared with the national average of 28 per cent – and 46 per cent attained five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, compared with 54 per cent nationally.
The pupils displayed more favourable attitudes towards science – and specifically chemistry – if they took part in hands-on learning and extra-curricular science clubs, finds Students’ science attitudes, beliefs, and context: associations with science and chemistry aspirations.
The paper states: "This finding has practical relevance: although teachers cannot necessarily ensure that students read science books at home, they can help provide and support science clubs and other activities."
However, the sampled students said they had taken part in these types of extra-curricular activities relatively infrequently, "suggesting the potential for interventions and support".
Particular teaching approaches also seemed to make a difference, finds the research, funded by the Royal Society of Chemistry. The paper says: "Engaging students with their learning could include, for example, giving them opportunities to spend time doing laboratory experiments and investigations and/or involve the teacher linking scientific concepts to everyday life outside of school."