Swansea University Science for Schools Scheme (S4) is a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) outreach project connecting Key Stage 3 pupils in South Wales with university science. S4 is led by research scientists and aims to get young people excited by, and engaged in, science through free, hands-on, curiosity-driven, and research-led workshops. S4 aims to increase access to STEM learning and to improve STEM uptake and attainment in higher education in students from backgrounds with traditionally low participation in higher education and STEM.
S4 participants traditionally take part in lab-based, hands-on STEM workshops, at a dedicated outreach classroom on Swansea University’s Singleton Campus. Since 2020, however, S4 has changed in scope to meet the needs of schools in a global pandemic. Workshops are now able to be delivered via live-stream, directly in school or through field trips. A new online portal, available freely to each participant, also supports each workshop by providing a wealth of additional written and video material. Our workshops complement and reinforce the national science curriculum, covering topics in Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Literacy and numeracy skills are also key elements in our teaching.
S4 was established in 2012 by Professor Mary Gagen and Dr Will Bryan at Swansea University, and since 2018 has formed part of the pan-Wales Trio Sci Cymru Consortium. The programme is supported by the European Social Fund and Welsh Government.
In year three, S4 continues to deliver science workshops to participants but has changed to meet the needs of schools in a global pandemic. Each term, partner schools are able to choose from a variety of workshops that can be delivered via live-stream, field trip or in-school whenever possible. Every participant has also received two S4 Bumper Workbooks and an S4 Experiment Box, helping them to learn and carry out their own experiments at home. All S4 content is further supported by additional worksheets and video series available on the brand-new S4 Online Portal, freely accessible to all participants whenever they wish.
S4 has run hands-on experiments, experiences and science shows both on the Swansea University campus and in schools, since 2012. In talking to and surveying participants, parents and teachers, S4 has learnt a great deal about what influences whether a child engages with STEM subjects and feels confident about their ability to ‘do science’ and how this influences young people’s consideration of STEM careers. The most recent iteration of S4, launched in April 2018, aims to improve attainment in Biology, Chemistry and Physics through hands-on workshops, and to study how such activities change the way children think about these subjects.
The S4 Trio Sci Cymru programme is made up of two full-day science sessions per term for three years, following the same students from year 7 to year 9, and are structured to give the pupils the opportunity to develop practical skills, knowledge, and confidence in their ability to do science. Within a single day, three workshops, based around the three Triple Science subjects, are led by qualified and engaging experts in the subjects. Emphasis is placed on combining hands-on activities, discussions and short talks, with care to showcase the work of female scientists and highlight the wide range of scientific careers that exist. Schools with low STEM participation are targeted in line with the Welsh widening access policy, with the aim of widening participation in science to cover all demographics and create a more diverse STEM-engaged community.
S4 is now able to deliver workshops via online livestream, on-location field trips or directly in classrooms. This allows us to meet the individual requirements of each school we work with.
We have also set up an online portal that participating teachers and pupils can access any time they wish. The portal contains a large selection of video and written material covering all of our workshops and a variety of other scientific topics. In addition to the online portal each participant has received two Bumper Workbooks and an S4 Experiment Box, containing materials for 10 science experiments that can be carried out at home.
S4 currently works with seven partner schools (Bishop Vaughan R. C. School, Cymer Afan Comprehensive School, Cefn Hengoed Community School, Dylan Thomas Community School, Pentrehafod School, St. Joseph’s R. C. School and Sixth Form Centre, and Ysgol Maesteg) as part of an in depth three-year programme. Nevertheless, we will continue to take part in public events, such as talks by prominent scientists from across the globe, British Science Week, and several local festivals and roadshows across South and West Wales.
Trio Sci Cymru is a collaborative education and outreach programme, comprising the Welsh Government Office for Science (WGOS), Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff and Swansea Universities. The aim of Trio Sci Cymru is to understand the attitudes and uptake of the sciences by children in school years 7 to 9. Biology, Chemistry and Physics activities will be delivered in schools, and will be used a platform to encourage the uptake of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) across Wales, while facilitating the longitudinal study of factors that influence this vital route for young people, via education at all levels, to a skilled workforce.
Bishop Vaughan R. C. School (Swansea)
Cefn Hengoed Community School (Swansea)
Dylan Thomas Community School (Swansea)
Pentrehafod School (Swansea)
St. Joseph’s R. C. School and Sixth Form Centre (Neath Port Talbot)
Ysgol Maesteg (Bridgend)
Ysgol Cwm Brombil (Port Talbot)
Key stats and findings from 2018 – present day.
“Pupils taking part and being able to physically take home bee homes supports a conversation between them and home – this supports communication between science and family”
Teacher, Ysgol Cwm Brombil
“This was the best day ever! I really enjoyed it. I used to not like science but now I do”.
“Students who have never engaged with science are able to conceptualise science and use their learning back in school”.
“In 2015 S4 ran a transition workshop with our YR 6’s transitioning to Yr7. To encourage parents and pupils to participate S4 initially ran a week of after school clubs. After that we had an anxious wait to see how many would sign up for the programme. It’s a big ask to get them to give up the first week of their school holidays to do ‘science’ at ‘that university’. On the first morning, as we took the bus around the Valley we breathed a sigh of relief as 18 pupils got on the bus, from a class of 36. This was an amazing achievement – S4 had conquered the apathy of many parents. That evening the pupils returned to the Valley excited and enthused. In the evening we took numerous calls as word spread, and more and more parents wanted their child to attend. By the end of the week 32 pupils attended. Those pupils entered Year 7 with better knowledge of science and were keen to learn more. Those pupils are in Yr 9 now and have just chosen their options. Over half of them have chosen to do triple science GCSE. For the first time ever, our school has a Triple Science Option Class going into GCSE”.
Jo Ralph, Cymer Afan Comprehensive
“Our teachers report higher levels of engagement in schools and fewer ‘sanction points’ for disengaged behaviour. Pupils use their science learning in other classes. Pupils “love coming here”. Parents give support for the programme at Parents Evenings in school. Personal UCAS Statements of the Yr 12/13 pupils who attend our summer schools mention S4 as a motivator”.
“S4 gives them that ‘wow moment’ every term and it means that they get to Yr 10 not hating science! Fun leads to engagement which leads to a desire to make progress in their science education. It works”.
Head of Science, St Joseph’s Catholic School and 6th Form Centre, Port Talbot.