Encourage, inspire, ENTHUSE

Charley Rogers meets The Baroness Brown of Cambridge, Julia King, to talk about this year’s ENTHUSE Awards, and being the chair of STEM Learning UK

What has been the highlight of this year’s ENTHUSE Awards for you?

A very difficult question! In a way, it’s just the way in which people respond to being recognised. Just the fact that people have come beautifully dressed, which goes to show how special it is for them, and how charming and thrilled they’ve all been on being recognised. That really has been an uplifting experience. 

How do you think events like the ENTHUSE Awards help to recognise the professional and personal development of teachers across the UK? 

I come from a family of teachers; my mother, her brother, her sister, many of their children went into teaching and I’ve been an academic myself. My grandparents on my mother’s side were also teachers. In those days, teachers had huge status in the community. You could have your passport photo signed by a justice of the peace, a doctor, or a teacher. And I think over the years, we’ve seen an awful lot of teacher-bashing, and in the last five years, they seem to have been at quite a low, but I do think we need more events like this, to celebrate the people we trust with inspiring the next generation. They are so important. And for me as an engineer, the people we trust with inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers, need themselves to be inspired. It was lovely to see, that here as a group, [they] are truly inspired. 

I chair STEM Learning because I want every science teacher, every STEM teacher, in every school, to have the positive experiences that these teachers have had. Because to me, that is the way we will ensure that every child has a world-class STEM education. And whether they go into STEM or not, we live in an increasingly technological world, and to engage properly as a citizen, you need to understand, you need to be able to read the reports, you need to be able to sort the proper science from the rubbish about the latest wonder vegetable, or about the latest medical procedure, either real or invented, to understand the risks that we all expose ourselves to online, or that might be in your autonomous vehicle. 
Every child deserves a world-class STEM education; that is what I would like to see. And it’s just lovely to see the people who are delivering that today, and, gosh, if we could get all our STEM teachers to be as inspired and enthusiastic as the people in the room here tonight, wow, that would be super. 

What do you think is the most prevalent issue in STEM education at the moment?

There are a lot of important issues. For me I suppose, one of them is that I have a fear, that because of cost pressures, in what I would call the experimental sciences – chemistry, physics, biology – we are reducing the amount of practical classes, [and] the things that young people are allowed to do in schools and colleges, and for an awful lot of people who are very successful in STEM, and also for a lot people who go down the technician route, and into STEM and engineering companies, learning by doing is hugely important. And if we take away that opportunity to learn by doing, we will cut off STEM for a lot of young people. 
For a lot of young people, if there is an exciting problem for them to solve, that will motivate them to learn the maths, or to learn the difficult, or perhaps the boring bits. But if you give them the boring bit first, then they might never discover that that was a subject that could have inspired them. So I really worry that we’re taking the emphasis away from design and technology as being a ‘proper’ academic subject, and I really worry that cost pressures – and to some extent health and safety, but mainly cost pressures – mean that we are squeezing the experimental [element] out of school science teaching. For so many kids, the doing is the way they are inspired for the learning, and for me, that was certainly the case. 

For more on STEM Learning UK, visit stem.org.uk



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