Published on: 26 Oct 2017

Striving for STEM success

By Sonia Schofield, Director of Progress and Achievement, Flixton Girls’ School

‘Inspiring girls to discover their talents and fulfil their potential through our founding principles of aspiration, empowerment and excellence’ is at the heart of life at Flixton Girls’ school, and is fully embedded in the rich and diverse curriculum we offer at Key Stage 4. However, in a school that strives for more females to enter STEM careers, the following national statistics make stark reading:

  • Only 9% of the engineering workforce is female and only 6% of registered engineers and technicians are women
  • The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, and less than 16% of engineering and technology undergraduates in the UK are female. Compared with India, where over 30% of engineering students are women on engineering courses account for over 30% of the students
  • The proportion of young women studying engineering and physics has remained virtually static since 2012 and only around 20% of A Level physics students are girls and this has not changed in 25 years
  • The UK needs to significantly increase the number of people with engineering skills. In 2014, one report put the annual shortfall of STEM skills at 40,000. As of 2015, the annual shortfall of the right engineering skills is 55000. We need to double, at least, the number of UK based university engineering students.

Source: WES Statistics, a compilation of data and statistics from multiple sources, revised in March 2016

Our own three year trend data has shown a decrease in the number of pupils opting for the natural Sciences at GCSE. However, on entry, our pupils have above the national average in spatial reasoning ability and above average scores in quantitative reasoning skills (see a selection below from our Year 7 results). Logically, this would suggest our pupils should excel in Sciences and Engineering and we should have a high number opting to study Science, Engineering and technology-based subjects at KS4.

Y7 CAT4 –
Verbal Reasoning
Y7 CAT4 –
Non Verbal Reasoning
Y7 CAT4 –
Quantitative Reasoning
Y7 CAT4 –
Spatial Reasoning
111 132 126 128
110 119 122 128
100 93 104 127
117 110 106 126
89 102 108 126
125 133 122 125
108 92 107 125
120 114 108 124
99 101 103 123
109 122 119 122


Changing a culture

This September, we delivered whole school CPD covering the value of the Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4) in understanding the learning profile of a child learns and where they may excel. Staff were introduced to the concept of ‘extreme biases’ and how this may conceal a child’s potential in STEM subjects if they have low verbal reasoning scores but extremely high scores in spatial reasoning (an extreme spatial thinker is a student who tends to think first in images and only afterwards converts these thoughts to words).

We believe that how we teach pupils should be informed by our understanding of CAT4 data; the use of KS2 data alone would limit our ability to see the holistic picture and the opportunity to view their potential outside of curriculum constraints. For the first time, we have considered whether a child has a mild, moderate or extreme learning bias in the areas covered by CAT4 and we have taken spatial skills into account, too. We believe that this will provides valuable insight into how far the student can go and how a teacher can facilitate this with the recommended teaching and learning strategies.

Our Key Stage 3 schemes of work have also been adapted to offer a range of activities that engage pupils with extremely high spatial scores – for instance, giving them the opportunity to problem solve at the start of the lessons and allowing them to see the big picture in units of study prior to receiving the learning objectives.

The options process in 2018

In March 2018, when Year 8 pupils make their options choices, we will be directing pupils based on CAT scores into recommended STEM subjects. This is a change in culture for the school, moving from reviewing attainment in English, Maths and Science to looking at our girls’ potential ability based on all four CAT batteries (Verbal, Non-Verbal, Spatial and Quantitative ability).

It’s an exciting year for the school and we hope we will see a culture change with an increase in the love and passion for STEM subjects as a result.

Read more about CAT4 and spatial abilities in our report, Hidden talents: How poor verbal skills mask potential