Building a Head of STEAM in HMC Schools

30 June 2015
Posted by Heidi Salmons
Insight editor James Priory reports on three schools at the leading edge of science and technology education.

Science and technology continue to be a major focus for education and industry in the UK. According to the National STEM Centre in York, the UK produces 10% of the world’s leading scientific research despite only making up 1% of the world’s population. And yet, demand for graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths remains high as employers continue to struggle to recruit suitably skilled individuals.

Robert Gordon’s College is a large, coeducational day school located in the centre of Aberdeen. Head, Simon Mills sets the scene: “The so-called Granite City, Aberdeen is also well known as the Energy Capital of Europe, both for its oil and gas operations in the North Sea and for its renewable technologies. There are 20 companies specialising in biotechnology and life sciences. Science and technology are therefore major drivers of enterprise, which is why there is a growing demand for numerate and scientifically-literate young people in the area.”

In 2012 the College acquired a building formerly owned by Robert Gordon University and set about converting the facility to create 34 laboratories for the three major sciences, computing and technology. The Wood Foundation Centre for Science and Technology, which opens this summer, is
believed to be the largest specialist school teaching facility of its kind in Britain. The College has also built a Performing Arts Centre, deliberately co-located. “We believe in STEAM rather than STEM,” says Simon, “putting the creative arts at the heart of science, technology, engineering and maths.
Creativity is critical, after all.”

At Uppingham School, there has been a similar drive to develop major new facilities for STEM, which Head of Science, Luke Bartlett attributes to Headmaster Richard Harman’s vision of “Destination Science”: “we wanted to create a place and a culture that inspires more of our pupils to pursue
science here and at top universities, and to prepare them for careers in medicine, engineering, research and technology.”

The previous facilities were beginning to limit what could be achieved. Luke continues: “The old Science schools were housed in cramped 1950s buildings and were inadequate for the practical work we wanted to carry out. We decided to start from scratch and were able to take advantage of the site of the old Sports Centre. The L-shape of the new building was the first major decision, creating a landscaped space protected from the road in an echo of the old school quad to the east.”

The new building, opened in 2014, boasts 15 large laboratories in a three storey teaching wing. Each lab is “wet/dry”, dividing the space into areas dedicated to practical and theory work. Two project labs, a greenhouse and Science Library form the Cavell Centre within a triple height atrium at the heart of the building. A roof terrace doubles as an outdoor classroom. Other notable features include a digital Periodic Table and an 11m high Foucault Pendulum.

It is now over four years since we opened a purpose-built science centre at Portsmouth Grammar School (PGS). Named after two former pupils and lifelong friends – the helicopter pioneer Alan Bristow and the author and film writer James Clavell – we sought to create an aesthetically stimulating building which would provide specialist facilities to support a far more practical experience of science from KS3 to KS5. As well as 19 laboratories and break-out spaces, there is a 120-seater lecture theatre and a pupil-designed greenhouse.

The school has always had a powerful science tradition, but the new facilities are clearly inspiring pupils further. Nearly 70% of the Sixth Form (340 pupils) now study a science subject at A Level or IB, and nearly 75% study mathematics at some level post-16. Engineering and medicine remain two of our most popular destination courses for boys and girls.

Building links with universities and industry, however, is just as important in developing a sustainable STEM culture within a school as opening a new science building.

To read more, see the June 2015 issue of HMC's Insight magazine.