School leading the way to inspire young scientists

Dr Louise Morris wants every student at her school to have the education and opportunity to have a career in STEM.

As the Director of Science and Assistant Head at the Richard Hale School in the centre of Hertford, an all-ability specialist academy for Science and Applied Learning for boys aged 11-18, Dr Morris knows how rewarding a science career can be.  After completing her degree in Molecular Genetics, Dr Morris worked for University Research Laboratories for 10 years before leaving to pursue a new challenge in teaching.

“Our real aim is to get everybody involved, accessing STEM subjects and enjoying them” Louise says, speaking passionately about the way her school makes science approachable across academic levels and throughout the boys five or seven years at the school. In addition to traditional GCSE and A-Levels in science subjects, the school now offers a BTEC qualification in Applied Science for those in the sixth-form who wants an opportunity to further their scientific learning but hasn’t attained the grades needed for science A-levels. In addition to the broad curriculum, Richard Hale draws on the teachers own interests and areas of expertise, offering students the opportunity to study engineering, geology and electronics, to name a few.

However, it is in the cross-curriculum clubs and activities that Dr Morris says STEM is brought to life for the students, and part of “what makes Richard Hale so unique”.

Dr Morris says; “Being given the chance to learn about something that is happening in the real world is what inspires our students. Students regularly ask ‘why do I need to know this’ when you are teaching.  They have been fascinated by Tim Peake going up into space so students have been learning about how he survives in zero gravity. Things that are in the news are what the students like to learn about.’’

hales school award photo

The school’s Space Balloon club is currently working on its second launch. The lunchtime club, which has students from all years of the school and with varying levels of scientific knowledge, is focused on science, engineering and practical learning, but has also drawn on the maths expertise and geographers in the school to help manage their carefully planned launches, with calculations of the balloons trajectory and accurate weather essential to the project’s success. 

After safely retrieving their first Space Balloon from its landing site near Peterborough back in Spring 2014, the school are now planning to send seeds into space in their second launch, which they’ll then use in school science lessons, studying the effect of space radiation on plants.

‘’Students want to come on board and join these clubs, partly because they are fun but also because they are inquisitive.  We have an automotive workshop where we employ a car mechanic allowing them to build and mend cars. We also have 9 modern labs as well as science teachers who are specialist teachers, which is more unusual these days. ’’ Dr Morris adds.

Located not far from GSK’s Ware site,  Richard Hale school recognises the role companies can play in bringing learning to life for students, and the are many links between the school and GSK.

Last year, students from Richard Hale, won GSK’s ‘Germ Control’ Annual Schools Challenge. Dr Morris says winning has had a very positive impact on them and they are now in the top science set in their year.  She would encourage other schools to engage with the opportunities offered by companies to help bring STEM to life.

In addition to in-school learning support, where GSK regularly has scientists speaking to students about their career opportunities, GSK also runs two annual work experience programmes with Richard Hale, which is always popular with students.

Dr Morris says; “There is increasing competition for work experience to support university applications and students are not always fully aware of just how broad studying STEM subjects can be and where it can take you.’’ She would encourage other companies to offer similar work experience programmes to those of GSK, which she says engage and motivate students.

Speak to GSK on our shared responsibility to get more children to pursue careers in STEM, Dr Morris says this is something they’re acutely aware of in schools, as finding dedicated science teachers can be a challenge.

With around a fifth of school leavers from Richard Hale going on to science degrees at University, there is evidence to show the importance of extra-curricular opportunities and engaging young scientists in relevant, real-life problems.

GSK has resources available for teachers to help bring science to life in the classroom, which can be found here.