Karl Mannheim Professor of sociology of education at UCL Institute of Education
18 Jun 2019
Louise Archer’s research focusses on educational identities and inequalities, particularly in relation to social class, ethnicity and gender. She has conducted research on a wide range of issues, including British Muslim young people’s identities; working-class (non)participation in HE; British Chinese students’ educational success; urban youth and schooling; and, most recently, studies on inequalities in science participation.
Louise Archer and the ASPIRES/ ASPIRES 2 and Enterprising Science team (UCL Institute of Education) were awarded the 2018 BERA Public Engagement and Impact Award for their impactful research on ‘science capital’ and educational inequalities.
The ASPIRES/ASPIRES 2 and Enterprising Science research projects team originated the concept of ‘science capital’, developed new understandings of what produces unequal patterns in science participation, and developed a teaching approach to improve science engagement. Their research has dramatically changed science education policy and practice both nationally and internationally, shifting understanding, policy and practice across government departments, national institutions, museums, science centres, and major science and engineering professional societies. The team’s work reflects their commitment to social justice, and demonstrates their ability to lead sustained improvement in broadening STEM aspirations, participation, and diversity based on strong conceptual, empirical research.
The impact of Professor Louise Archer and her team’s science capital work draws from two research projects; ASPIRES/ ASPIRES 2 and Enterprising Science. ASPIRES/ ASPIRES 2 constitute a 10-year longitudinal study, tracking a student cohort from age 10-19 to understand the influences of family, school, careers education, social identities and inequalities on science and career aspirations. ASPIRES/ ASPIRES 2 is a mixed methods study, comprising surveys with over 40,000 students and longitudinal interviews with 60 young people and 60 parents (tracked from age 10-19).
The research found that while over 70% of 10-13 year olds find science lessons interesting, this doesn’t translate into STEM aspirations. Additional findings include: stratification of KS4 science into ‘Double’ and ‘Triple Science’ may contribute to the STEM skills gap; careers education is patterned by existing social inequalities, and girls who take Physics are ‘exceptional’ in key ways, reflecting specific barriers to progression in the subject. Enterprising Science used the concept of science capital to understand how young people from all backgrounds engage with science and how their engagement can be supported.
Subsequently, the Science Capital Teaching Approach was developed by Professor Archer and colleagues as a social justice approach to teaching the curriculum; improving students’ relationship to science and producing rewarding experiences for teachers. It relates science to students’ lives and challenges stereotypes about who can do science. Students who experience the approach record significantly increased levels of science capital, higher attainment, are more likely to aspire to STEM education/careers (from 16% to over 21.4%) and are more likely to see science as relevant to them (from 25% to 42%). Dramatic results occurred among disadvantaged communities with some teachers citing a 600% improvement in attainment among their lowest attaining students.