Launching STEM SMART: a new programme for 750 disadvantaged students studying A-level maths and science

Newnham College was founded 150 years ago with the belief that education is for everyone. We’re delighted that, in our anniversary year, we’re part of a major new University programme to support disadvantaged Year 12 and 13 students across the UK.   

STEM SMART will support hundreds of UK state school students’ studies in maths and science throughout their final year-and-a-half – from the second term of Year 12 to their Year 13 A-level examinations. Mature students studying independently will also be eligible.

This is part of a pilot widening participation project to address educational disadvantage, with Newnham is one of 12 colleges taking part. The project aims to help bridge attainment gaps, mitigate educational disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re delighted to be taking part in the pilot of STEM SMART, and to be supporting talented students from less advantaged backgrounds to achieve highly,” explained Dr Sam Lucy, Newnham’s Admissions Tutor.

Newnham members will be well aware of our own ongoing widening participation projects, including the annual Rosalind Franklin Conference for Yr 12 science students, and the Maths Summer School for Yr 10 girls. STEM SMART will let us offer long-term support to some of the young people who will benefit most, and we hope to encourage them to study science, maths or engineering at top universities.

The organisers expect that many students joining the programme will be at schools with little or no experience of sending students to Cambridge: participants will be invited to a 4-day residential at a Cambridge College to see student life for themselves.

“This is an fantastic opportunity for students to experience Cambridge, I hope it inspires more people to apply and consider studying sciences!” said Lucy, a Newnham second year Natural Sciences student and online outreach volunteer.

The free programme will support teaching already taking place in schools, providing extra resources such as weekly online tutorials by Cambridge academics, who will mark work and give students individual feedback. It will also include live online lectures, and students will be assigned a Cambridge student as a mentor.

STEM SMART is open to students at non-fee-paying schools from Widening Participation backgrounds. This will include students who live in areas of high deprivation, those who have been eligible for free school meals at any point during their secondary schooling, those who are care-experienced, those at schools unable to offer further mathematics as an A-level, and mature students who are self-studying, among others. We aim to enrol around 750 A-level students.

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.”

STEM SMART is part of Cambridge University’s long term widening participation work, 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, and the use of UCAS Adjustment to reconsider candidates who exceed expectations in examinations. Newnham College is delighted to be part of the pilot Foundation Year, and to have already welcomed excellent students via Adjustment.