NHSG - Giving Girls the Competitive Edge in STEM

Giving Girls the Competitive Edge in STEM

March 8, 2024

It goes without saying that girls and women need access to cutting edge, dynamic teaching and learning programmes if they want to succeed in the traditionally male-dominated world of STEM. Cutting through the pervasive stigma about women in STEM requires a competitive edge. Which is why at NHSG we’re proud to go over and above when it comes to our innovative academic programmes and industry collaborations.

But we also know that girls and women need another secret ingredient to succeed: confidence. And that’s something that NHSG girls develop in spades.

NHSG alumnae have been trailblazing in STEM for over a century – and they continue to make waves today. From the revolutionary engineering scholar, Rachel Mary Parsons (an alumna of Central Newcastle High at the turn of the 20th century) who not only instructed thousands of Tyneside women in engineering factories as men went to war, but also lobbied for women’s career rights, to more recent NHSG alumnae such as Rosie Hurcombe, who has just completed a 13 month Car Build Industrial Placement for the Mercedes-AMG Petronius Formula One Team.

The impact, prestige and importance of the work that NHSG alumnae go on to achieve is testament to our investment in STEM and confidence building – but how do we do it?

Confidence

Confidence needs to be nurtured from an early age as girls develop their curiosity and educational preferences. If a three-year-old girl displays an interest in building blocks and construction, she needs to be encouraged and empowered to build on that (excuse the pun!). This is where all-girl schools come into their own.

In 2022, the GDST commissioned the Girls’ Futures report, a piece of research that indisputably confirmed that ‘girls only’ education can and does have a measurable impact on gender bias when taking part in activities.

In response to the statement ‘I avoid some activities, subjects and hobbies because of my gender’, only 9%of GDST girls agreed with this statement, compared to 37% of girls nationally.

This is perhaps because, while there isn’t a lack of female role models in STEM, they are not adequately communicated in wider educational settings. For example, Teach First’s research found that not a single woman’s name explicitly featured in the national curriculum for GCSE science, yet, in contrast, over 40 male scientists were mentioned. At NHSG we work closely with our alumnae community to ensure that girls are able to engage with inspirational role models. In fact, as part of our ‘Trailblazing in….’ assembly programme, Dr Emma Milner, Class of 2014, spoke to girls across school about her PhD in swarm robotics as part of  preparations for NHSG STEM week in March

It’s also important to note that, when girls are learning and developing in all-girl settings – from nursery right through to Sixth Form – nobody will ever suggest that an activity ‘isn’t for them’.

This builds confidence that not only encourages more engagement in STEM subjects and activities from an early age, but also embeds confidence and a belief that girls and women deserve their rightful place in STEM just as much as boys and men.

Developing a competitive edge

Of course, even with this confidence it helps to stand out above the rest, and this is why our curriculum is packed full of dynamic opportunities for girls to develop their skills and interests.

According to PWC, only 5% of leadership positions in the UK tech sector are currently held by women. The conscious or unconscious bias to recruit ‘people like me’ can make it harder for women to cut through in these circumstances. Which is why we support girls to build a CV and portfolio that is genuinely undeniable.

Other examples of initiatives include our cyber security programmes, and the fact that this is further embedded into our GCSE Computing curriculum. We are one of the few schools in the country able to deliver this, and our links with Sunderland University have also enabled our pupils to access exciting projects such as a cyber security escape room.

We also teach robotics and take part in the VEX robotics competitions, as well as enjoying a link with Nissan that allows pupils to visit the manufacturing site and observe how robotics is transforming production in the car industry.

The Wonder Challenge for KS3 and KS4 is another great initiative that we have signed up to, challenging Year 9 and 10 pupils to form mini construction companies, and F1 in Schools is a fantastic educational project and competition designed for teachers, informed by engineers and endorsed by Formula 1. In November 2023, two teams of NHSG pupils won the overall Regional Championship as well as the Best Engineered Car and Fastest Car awards.

Our annual STEMpowerment Exhibition, held during British Science Week, brings some of the biggest names in STEM to NHSG to demonstrate and share some of the brilliant new technologies that are shaping our world. And in Junior School, our Science Fair sees pupils working with parents to create their own STEM Exhibits. All of this is done with a combined aim of exciting, inspiring and empowering girls in STEM.

We are 100% committed to transforming the future for girls in STEM at NHSG and we will continue to identify exciting collaborations to be part of, while developing our increasingly competitive and ambitious core curriculum.

With only 17% of women working in the tech industry, it is clear that without the intervention of initiatives to bring about positive change, men will continue to dominate the sector. That’s something we simply cannot settle for.

If girls and women feel unable to take their rightful place in the world of STEM, then the world will be missing out on some of society’s brightest talent and creativity. We’re here to make that change.

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