Better STEM teaching ‘could help solve UK skills shortage’

‘When you make STEM subjects fun for young learners, it’s an investment for the future,’ say educational suppliers, Gratnells

The UK skills shortage in STEM-related industries remains in a critical state, according to the latest figures provided by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). Results from the economic survey, conducted at the end of 2017, reflects that 75% of manufacturers admit finding talent with the correct level of skill remains a consistent difficulty. This supports a previously published CBI report that found 40% of employers struggled when hiring. It also predicted that, by 2020, more than 50% of the UK workforce would be ‘knowledge workers’ whose skills would depend largely on the quality of their STEM education.

Against this backdrop, Gratnells, manufacturer and marketer for the education sector, is looking to promote and popularise STEM subjects among learners of all ages. Working with educationalists such as Professor Peter Barrett and Dr. Katherine Forsey, Gratnells has embraced forward-thinking on issues such as less formal classroom layouts and use of colour. An example of this is the Clever Classrooms report, from the Head Project, which concluded: “There is clear evidence that the physical characteristics of primary schools do impact on pupils’ learning progress in reading, writing and mathematics.”

Professor Barrett was one of the lead researchers for this study, which went on to consider the ‘SIN’ framework of factors:

 – Stimulation: visual complexity and colour

 – Individualisation: ownership, personalisation, distinction and flexibility

 – Naturalness: light, temperature, air quality, sound and links to nature

These factors are no less important in STEM, contends Dr Katherine Forsey, an established education consultant and outdoor learning specialist, who has developed a number of projects and resources in collaboration with Gratnells. These include the sponsorship and management of the Science Technician of the Year Awards (STOTY), which are presented at the ASE (Association for Science Education) National Technicians Conference at the STEM learning centre on the University of York campus.

Dr Forsey believes exercises such as pond dipping will enhance the learning experience. She says: “STEM learning outdoors provides real world understanding and improves retention and attainment. What’s more, behaviour often improves, and a broader skill set is developed.”

Gratnells trays, well known as a system of choice for many STEM kit manufacturers, have been joined by the newly launched MakerSpace trolley. Standard Gratnells trays can be interchanged with fixed storage to transport materials and tools to a work area, with the unit also capable of being used as a stand-alone workstation.

Last year, Gratnells published Enhancing the Learning Environment’, a 60-page book that references sources from Dr Maria Montessori to Sir Ken Robinson, and includes a number of sections devoted to STEM subjects. It quotes the eminent professor, philosopher and communicator, Marshall McLuhan: “Education must shift from instruction to discovery – to probing and exploration.”