Cambridge academics to provide additional learning for state school A-level students

The new scheme is aims to reduce disruption caused by the pandemic and bridge attainment gaps

The University of Cambridge’s new 17-month STEM SMART programme aims to support hundreds of UK state school students through their A-levels with enhanced learning, encouragement and mentoring.

The programme will support talented students’ studies in maths and science from the second term of Year 12 to their A-level examinations in a bid to help bridge attainment gaps, mitigate educational disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and address the UK’s skills shortage in STEM subjects. The new scheme is set to support around 750 Year 12 Maths and Science students.

Cambridge academics will support teaching already taking place in schools by providing extra resources. These will include weekly online tutorials where they will mark work and give individual feedback, small group supervisions, and live online motivational lectures. Students will also be assigned a Cambridge student as a mentor, who they can speak to about university life.

It is expected that many joining the programme will be at schools with little or no experience of sending students to Cambridge, and so those who actively take part will be invited to attend a four-day residential “boot-camp” in Cambridge, where they will stay at a College, experience life as a Cambridge student, and consider whether they would want to apply to the university.

The pilot initiative, starting in January 2022, will be open to Maths, Physics and Chemistry A-level (or equivalent) students at non-fee-paying schools from widening participation backgrounds. The University is aiming to enrol around 750 A-level students for the start of the pilot. It will be free to all students taking part, following support and funding from the University, Colleges and the Department for Education.

David Buckley, Head of Physics at Mayflower High School, an academy in Billericay, Essex, said: “Our students have had an unprecedented, difficult time in their education, so this additional tuition – the extra time and detail that teachers want to give but because of the demands of the job sometimes can’t – is hugely welcome, particularly now.

“Being able to meet and work with Cambridge University experts and current Cambridge undergraduates, to see how they approach particular problems, and find out about life around their courses, really is a unique opportunity for our students. All teachers want their students to do as well as possible and achieve their potential, whether that’s at Cambridge or another top university.”

The programme also aims to help students not wanting to apply to Cambridge to make competitive applications to STEM courses at other universities, with sustained engagement on the programme leading to an award that can be included in their UCAS personal statement as an example of a super-curricular activity.

Physics lecturer Dr Lisa Jardine-Wright, who is co-directing the STEM SMART programme, said: “By providing extra subject-specific resources that just aren’t available in every school, this pilot will complement students’ classroom learning, improve their problem-solving skills, and help them get the best possible grades. 

“It’s also about motivational support and building confidence, and while helping students to maximise their attainment the programme aims to encourage those who take part successfully to apply to study at Cambridge, or another higher-tariff university. Small group supervisions and a 4-day residential ‘boot camp’ will offer students a taste of life as a Cambridge student, and advice and guidance on applying to Cambridge, if they choose to, including preparing for admissions assessments and interviews.”

Professor Stephen Toope, the university’s Vice-Chancellor, added: “COVID continues to exacerbate existing inequalities in education, and many schools face an unprecedented challenge dealing with the legacy of the pandemic. As part of the University’s mission to contribute to society through the pursuit of learning, the STEM SMART programme will bolster the studies of A-level students at non-fee-paying schools, from their first year all the way through to their exams. This is support for those talented students who need it most, at a time when it is needed more than ever.”

The programme follows other ‘widening participation’ initiatives from the university, namely the launch of a Foundation Year for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, which from 2022 will offer talented students a new route to undergraduate study, and the use of UCAS Adjustment to reconsider candidates who exceed expectations in examinations.

Feature Image Credit: University of Cambridge Press Releases