Science and Technology Facilities Council
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‘Space Schools’ to unleash talent and excitement for STEM subjects

A unique new scheme to use the excitement of space to teach science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in specialist secondary schools in England has been over-subscribed. Starting Tuesday 14th October 2008, thirty ‘space schools’ across the country will take part in the two year ‘Leading Space Education Programme’ funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and run by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT).

The scheme will support schools to develop teaching approaches using space as contexts and applications to engage students.

Lord Drayson, Minister of State for Science and Innovation, said:

"Space exploitation captures children’s imagination. The schools which have been selected for this scheme have been chosen because of the exciting ways they intend to use space across the different subjects to inspire children in the classroom.

"If we can demonstrate to children the interesting challenges that scientists and engineers face when designing a mission to Mars for example and relate this to their own work in the classroom, we can start a lifelong passion that will motivate students to study these subjects at GCSE, A-level and beyond.

"If we can keep hold of this excitement, we can create a new skilled generation with exciting careers ahead of them in the technologies, sciences and engineering that underpin modern living.

"Space science isn’t just about the technology needed to send a rocket into space, the technologies developed have practical applications for all of us, a simple example would be the GPS in most of our cars.

"Space research can also help us to understand some of the most pressing challenges we all face – our understanding of climate change is already being furthered by satellites and the orbiting space station which monitor meteorological patterns."

The Leading Space Education Programme is being launched with a teachers’ conference hosted at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire. STFC not only hosts specialist facilities at its Space Science and Technology Department, but also pays the UK membership of the European Space Agency and funds the UK’s space science programme. The programme includes missions to study the Sun, search for evidence of life on Mars and understand our place in the solar system. This expertise puts STFC at the heart of exciting space projects and opportunities that capture the imagination of students.

Professor Keith Mason, CEO of STFC said "Space is a subject in which the UK excels. By taking the UK’s expertise in Space into the classroom, we can inspire the next generation to unleash their talents in science, engineering and technology, encouraging the skilled work forces we need both in science and the UK economy more widely."

Over 70 schools applied to join the scheme, providing first plans on how they would use ‘space’ in their teaching. The 30 selected schools will be using space as a theme to develop lessons, cross-subject collaboration, learning resources and enrichment activities with the aim of enthusing their students about science.

For example they will

• have access to existing resources from STFC, NASA and ESA education programmes

• use space education to enrich the teaching and learning of STEM subjects and skills across the curriculum

• create innovative space activities, such as space clubs that involve parents and the wider community

• support primary and secondary teachers with using space education through developing pedagogy and providing resources

• partner with the space industry and higher education to enliven space education


They will then share their experience with local secondary schools and feeder primary schools. In return schools will receive support, resources and opportunities to meet with and visit those working in space research and industry.

Elizabeth Reid, Chief Executive of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust said:

"By getting students excited about science, technology, engineering and maths we can increase participation and raise achievement. That is why this programme is so important.

"By using the wonder of space and space travel, schools will develop innovative lessons and teaching resources, as well as a wide range of activities such as school trips that engage students in these subjects and provide them with the opportunity to fulfil their potential."

Participant schools from across the regions of England have been selected from specialist science, technology and engineering colleges that have extensive experience of curriculum innovation and school to school support.

The SSAT’s programme will enable teachers to develop teaching practice and share innovative approaches with each other across local, regional and national networks of schools.

The selected schools will receive support and resources connected with space activities and in return, agree to develop and share their expertise in space with local secondary schools and feeder primary schools.

Notes for Editors


Julia Maddock

STFC Press Office

Tel 01793 442094 

Michael Turner

SSAT Press Office

Tel 0207 802 2334

The selected schools cover the regions of England and are drawn from three groups of specialism: engineering, technology and science colleges. They represent a range of types of schools in different socio-economic areas.

Programme applies to England and is currently funded for 2 years. The programme may be expanded in future if successful and funding available.

The Leading Space Education Programme will be launched at a conference for teachers at the STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire on 14th October 2008.

A list of the schools involved and some supporting case studies are available on the SSAT website at

Information about Specialist Schools and Academies Trust

The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) is a leading body for secondary education.

The SSAT seeks to give more young people access to a good secondary education by building networks, sharing practice and supporting schools. The SSAT's way of working is based on the principle 'by schools for schools.'

The SSAT is at the heart of a growing network of schools including primary, secondary, special schools and academies. We believe it represents the largest network of its kind in the world.

For further information see


What are specialist colleges?

Specialist schools are an important part of the Government's plans to raise standards in secondary education. The Specialist Schools Programme helps schools, in partnership with private sector sponsors and supported by additional Government funding, to establish distinctive identities through their chosen specialisms and achieve their targets to raise standards. This has been shown to be a ‘particularly effective form of school improvement with impact beyond the school and its partner schools into the wider community.’ Specialist schools focus on those subjects relating to their chosen specialism but must also meet the National Curriculum requirements and deliver a broad and balanced education to all pupils.

Science, technology, engineering and maths and computing specialist schools are well placed to develop a STEM culture and to encourage subject departments, especially science, mathematics and design and technology, to implement curriculum opportunities that reflect the ways these subjects are used in real life and improve attainment and uptake of STEM pathways.

There are over 1300 STEM related specialist colleges in science, technology, engineering or maths and computing colleges that are distributed across England. These include a wide range of state secondary 11-16, 11-18, middle schools, academies, schools with combined specialisms and high performing schools with more than one specialism.

The participating schools

The thirty schools are drawn from the around England, with approximately three schools from 10 of the SSAT’s 11 regions. The scheme was open to schools with a science, engineering or technology specialism. The broad range of social, educational and economic backgrounds is represented in the cohort, with all being state funded and all but one being non-selective .

2009 is the International Year of Astronomy, see

Science and Technology Facilities Council

The Science and Technology Facilities Council ensures the UK retains its leading place on the world stage by delivering world-class science; accessing and hosting international facilities; developing innovative technologies; and increasing the socio-economic impact of its research through effective knowledge exchange partnerships.

The Council has a broad science portfolio including Astronomy, Particle Physics, Particle Astrophysics, Nuclear Physics, Space Science, Synchrotron Radiation, Neutron Sources and High Power Lasers. In addition the Council manages and operates three internationally renowned laboratories:

• The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxfordshire

• The Daresbury Laboratory, Cheshire

• The UK Astronomy Technology Centre, Edinburgh

The Council gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institute Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), the European organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) and the European Space Agency (ESA). It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility, which includes the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory.

The Council distributes public money from the Government to support scientific research. Between 2008 and 2009 we will invest approximately £787 million.

The Council is a partner in the UK space programme, coordinated by the British National Space Centre.


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