Reading agency launches STEM confidence scheme

Reading agency launches STEM confidence scheme

The Reading Agency is to launch an initiative aiming to build confidence in studying STEM subjects among children.

With funding from Arts Council England and the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the charity will be delivering a pilot project between 2021-2023, encouraging reading and engagement with science, technology, engineering and maths. The initiative is geared towards developing confidence in these areas among families in communities living with deprivation in England.

Eleven library service partners in England will distribute reading and STEM book and activity bags to families who have been particularly disadvantaged by the pandemic. They will also work with local youth organisations, schools and social care partners to develop positive, confidence-building activities for young people aged 14 to 18. The young people will work with library staff and youth workers to design new reading and science activities engaging families with children aged four to 11 in the library space and via the library service’s digital offer.

The agency will also work closely with publishers and specialist science organisations to develop and deliver the programme. The young people’s programme and the reading and STEM book and activity bags have been jointly designed with science education experts at the University of Northumbria. The British Science Association, whichis the official partner to this project, will be recognising children and young people’s achievements through its Crest Awards. Publishers including DK, Otter Barry, Raintree and the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC) are all providing content for the project.

The project has been supported with £289,000 from Arts Council England’s National Lottery Project Grants programme and £232,000 from the STFC.

Karen Napier, c.e.o. of The Reading Agency, said: "Reading Sparks demonstrates The Reading Agency’s commitment to tackling life’s big challenges through the proven power of reading. We are building on our successful programmes for children and young people and piloting new approaches to integrating reading with STEM and arts subjects to help bridge the gap in science capital in our most deprived communities. There has never been a more important time to use reading and the library network to reach out to families and young people and provide them with new opportunities to learn, have fun and build confidence that can boost their life chances."

Sue Williamson, director for libraries at Arts Council England, added: "Arts Council England is delighted to be supporting The Reading Agency in the delivery of the Reading Sparks project. Reading for pleasure has been proven to have an enormous influence on children and young people’s wellbeing and on developing their life chances. This project, which is aimed at children and young people who have been most affected by the pandemic, will be supporting those with a profound interest in science and technology to develop that interest through reading. Through harnessing the power of the public library network, The Reading Agency, working with a wide range of partners in publishing, in science engagement and in youth support work, will ensure that children and young people across the country will have the opportunity to develop that curiosity and playfulness which will support learning, help to give young people the skills and the confidence to experiment in this field and encourage a creative approach to science and technology."

Jenni Chambers, head of public engagement and skills, at STFC added: "STFC is pleased to be supporting Reading Sparks, as part of our long-term commitment to audience-driven public engagement. Reading Sparks forms part of our investment in projects that listen, understand, and respond to what people want to know about science and technology. At STFC we now that science and technology is exciting, accessible, and leads to many types of rewarding work. The Reading Agency will be working with libraries and community partners to reach people from all backgrounds, including those who don’t have the same opportunities to explore science and technology as others – which is a key priority for us. By exploring the role that reading can play in  engaging young people, children and families in STEM, Reading Sparks aims to make a contribution to reducing the numbers of children who feel that science and technology is not for them. We look forward to seeing what this cross-disciplinary approach can achieve in broadening participation in science and technology over the next few years."