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University of Cambridge unveils STEM SMART programme to support hundreds of state school students through A-levels

The University of Cambridge has unveiled a new initiative to support hundreds of UK state school students through their A-levels with enhanced learning and residential bootcamps.

The 17-month STEM SMART programme will support talented students’ classroom studies in maths and science throughout their final year and a half at school, with real-time online tuition, small group supervisions, mentoring and stays at Cambridge colleges.

It is being launched to help bridge attainment gaps, mitigate educational disruption caused by the pandemic, and address the UK’s skills shortage in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

Students at Cambridge. Picture: Jet Photographic
Students at Cambridge. Picture: Jet Photographic

The university said it was in contact with around 3,000 state schools about the programme, and aims to enrol around 750 A-level students for the start of the pilot in January 2022. The programme aims to build confidence in students who, in addition to the disruption caused by Covid-19, have experienced wider educational disadvantage, and encourage them to apply to study engineering or physical sciences at top universities, including Cambridge.

Physics lecturer Dr Lisa Jardine-Wright, who is co-directing the STEM SMART programme, said she would have benefited from a similar initiative during her own education.

“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 four-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.”

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.”

Dr Michael Sutherland, co-director of STEM SMART, and director of studies in natural sciences at Corpus Christi College, said: “Building on Cambridge’s work to find innovative new ways to further diversify our student body, the programme will offer enhanced additional learning to support the vital work of teachers, give students the specific skills they need to prepare for university, and boost innovation and technology in the UK by helping to address the skills shortage in STEM.”

Professor Stephen Toope, vice-chancellor, said: “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 continues progress on widening participation made by the university in recent years, including the launch of a foundation year for arts, humanities and social sciences, which from 2022 will offer talented students from backgrounds of educational and social disadvantage a new route to undergraduate study.

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