First quantitative evidence published by the British Science Association on the impact of extra-curricular STEM interventions

A Pro Bono Economics report, published today (Wednesday 27 January 2016) by the British Science Association (BSA), reveals that students who have taken a CREST Silver Award – a hands-on, extra-curricular STEM project – achieved half a grade higher on their best science GCSE result, compared to a matched control group.

The report, conducted by a group of volunteer economists, is the first independent review of its kind on the effect that undertaking practical, hands-on science projects can have on student attainment and subject choice.  The findings include:

  • Students who took Silver CREST achieved half a grade higher on their best science GCSE result compared to a statistically matched control group.
  • Students who undertake a CREST Silver Award are 21% more likely to take a STEM AS Level. 82% of Silver CREST students took a STEM AS Level, compared to 68% of a statistically matched control group.
  • Silver CREST students eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) saw a larger increase in their best science GCSE (two thirds of a grade) compared to a matched control group who were also eligible for FSM.
  • Students who were eligible for Free School Meals and took part in a CREST Silver Award were 38% more likely to take a STEM subject at AS Level than the matched control group.
  • Students who undertake Silver CREST have higher average GCSE grades compared to those who did not do a CREST Silver Award.
  • The sample for this analysis included 2.4 million Key Stage 4 students (of whom 3,800 took CREST Silver) and 1.0 million Key Stage 5 students (of whom 2,300 took a Silver CREST Award).
  • Half (50%) of students taking Silver CREST Awards were young women.

CREST Awards is the BSA’s flagship education programme, which allows 11 to 19-year-olds to explore real-world science, technology, engineering and maths by curating a unique hands-on project. It is a practical science intervention, which seeks to broaden students’ interest in science and encourage them to continue with STEM subjects.

There are four levels of Awards in the CREST programme; Discovery, Bronze, Silver and Gold, which each require increasing amounts of teacher and student time and mentor involvement.  The analysis in this report, Quantifying CREST: what impact does the Silver CREST Award have on science scores and subject selection?, focuses on students in English state schools aged 14-16 who took part in CREST Silver Awards between 2010 and 2013.

Imran Khan, Chief Executive of the British Science Association, said:

“In the 30 years that the CREST Awards have been running, we’ve known that doing practical, creative science & technology projects have increased students’ enjoyment and understanding of science – but it’s fantastic to now have quantitative evidence of their impact on academic attainment, too. We’ve found that students who do these kinds of projects through the CREST framework also get better GCSEs and are more likely to pick STEM AS Levels.

“As a society, we need more and more young people who are curious about, and comfortable with, science – not least to ensure that we have a competitive economy and vibrant culture – so we hope that this report encourages more young people, teachers, schools, and parents to explore science and technology through the CREST Awards.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the whole team at Pro Bono Economics who have volunteered many hours of their own time to produce this report, and to make some excellent recommendations for the BSA and education sector to take forward for the future.”

In order to conduct the research for this report, data collected by the BSA on students starting Silver CREST Awards between 2010 and 2013, was linked to data in the National Pupil Database. This enabled the authors (Rosie Stock Jones, Tom Annable, Zoe Billingham and Cee MacDonald) to bring together information on CREST participants with pupil characteristics, attainment and subject selection data.

Propensity Score Matching was used to create a control group of students who did not take part in CREST, but had similar characteristics to those who did. Key Stage 2 (KS2) SATs results were used to control for prior attainment. Other control variables included gender, ethnicity, region of school, year of GCSEs, participation in triple award science, type of school, free school meal status in the six years prior to taking GCSEs and the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI).

Karen Hancock, Economist, Pro Bono Economics, and Ex-Chief Economist, Department for Education, said:

“There are always caveats with this type of analysis, but the results suggest that students participating in the Silver CREST Awards achieve about half a grade higher on their best science GCSE result on average compared with a statistically-similar control group. Silver CREST students were also 21% more likely to take a STEM AS level subject than control group students.  We hope that the results of this report will support the British Science Association in making a case for encouraging greater uptake of the CREST Awards in schools.”

The authors have made several recommendations for further work, including replicating this analysis through a Randomised Control Trial, broadening it to cover Discovery, Bronze and Gold Award types and conducting a cost benefit analysis for schools.