Training teachers to make STEM inspirational

In order to give young people a world-leading STEM education, teachers should have access to high impact professional development and quality-assured resources, writes Becca Knowles from the National STEM Learning Network

Continuing professional development (CPD) is something close to my heart. After many years working as a senior leader in schools supporting staff development, I took a role with the National STEM Learning Network in York.

We believe all young people across the UK should receive a world‑leading STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) education. We are working to achieve this by making it easy for teachers and others involved in STEM education to access subject-specific, high impact professional development and quality-assured resource. We believe that high-quality, subject‑specific CPD is key to achieving this goal.


So, what does a teacher get out of CPD? All of our CPD aims to do three broad things: improve subject and pedagogical knowledge; improve the overall quality of teaching; and support leadership development. It also allows educators to network with like-minded people and share ideas and good practice beyond their own institution. Another benefit of CPD is the effect it has on a teacher’s confidence and enthusiasm for the subject they teach, in order to inspire young people.

The CPD we offer ranges from a twilight session in a neighbouring school, to sending teachers to Iceland to be able to have first‑hand understanding of geological processes and geothermal engineering. We may also demonstrate how to use the BBC mircro:bit or 3D printer in the classroom, or place a teacher in a placement at a world‑leading university. We firmly believe that a teacher filled with new ideas and renewed confidence can have a huge impact in the classroom, and on their colleagues. In a recent study on people who had been on our CPD, 94 per cent of teachers reported that the CPD had positive impacts on themselves, and 86 per cent of teachers confirm positive impacts on their students.


The impact of CPD goes much wider than the one teacher that attends. Part of our action planning processes ensures that learning is shared with others. The enthusiasm and new knowledge that person brings back to their school or college is infectious – spreading to their colleagues and students.

Another incredibly important factor is the effect CPD has on improving teacher retention and career progression. We all know that recruitment and retention in teaching is an issue, but even we were surprised when we conducted a survey of over 1,000 UK teachers in June last year, which revealed that 61 per cent of teachers were thinking of leaving teaching. However, those teachers that regularly engaged with CPD were significantly more likely to stay in teaching.

This is compelling evidence that CPD is an investment, not just as a way to improve teaching, but also as a route to keeping teachers teaching.


Improving outcomes and aspirations of students is at the heart of what all teachers and support staff are working towards.

King’s College are currently researching the effects of what they call “science capital”. Kings College explained this concept using the metaphor of a ‘holdall’ (or bag) filled with all the science-related knowledge, attitudes, experiences and resources that a person acquires through their life.

As well as including all the science they know and how they feel about science, the ‘holdall’ also includes the experiences and involvement that their family, friends and acquaintances have in science – and this definitely includes their teacher. The more science capital a student has, the more likely they are to go on to study this subject and work in a related field.

While this concept focuses on science, the metaphor could just as easily apply to engineering, technology, mathematics or any other STEM subject. Therefore, if we increase the understanding of a teacher we can have a broader impact on a wider range of students directly. This along with increased awareness of opportunities and careers in STEM industries is a powerful combination.

A great example of a CPD programme that does this is our STEM Insight programme. This allows teachers to experience a placement in a university or industry. Previous placements have involved teachers working with archaeologists working on the Crossrail project in London, standing in a wind tunnel at aerospace company QinetiQ and going behind the scenes at Cambridge University.

These unique experiences have been inspiring for the teachers involved – but imagine the possibilities they will open up for their students. The implementation of a teacher action plan after this type of activity allows the students to explore the links that have been built with local academic institutions or businesses and could provide a springboard into a new world for students. L

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