Focus on…. A Call to Arms

Medics, engineers and cyber geeks are the armies of today’s frontline and we need more of them as the pace of change accelerates, say professionals and educationalists

The Headmistress: Charlotte Avery, Headmistress of St Mary’s School, Cambridge, ignites a passion for science in her girls

Focus women in STEM: St Mary's Cambridge
Breaktime at St Mary’s School, Cambridge 

In 2019, the UK reached the milestone of having one million women working in STEM roles – an increase of more than 350,000 on 2009. Clearly, the working world is changing for the better but more needs to be done to encourage even more women into these roles.

To have a real impact in STEM subjects, women need to compose around 30 per cent of the scientific workforce – a figure that the UK Government and other organisations are working hard to achieve.

St Mary’s is 100 per cent behind this drive and we recognise the role we, as educators, have to play. Girls in single-sex schools are known to be more likely to study these subjects than in co-ed schools and St Mary’s is no exception.

Science and Maths do attract high uptake at A-level, with many of our girls going on to read these subjects and the applied fields of medicine, engineering and biochemistry at university – but we don’t take that as a given.  

Located in Cambridge, at the heart of Silicon Fen, we are surrounded by world-leaders in science, biochemistry, mathematics and technology-based industries. Working collaboratively with such organisations, we offer our sixth form girls unique work placements. But our work starts much younger than that embedding a passion for science, technology, engineering and maths  in girls from the minute they start in reception.

In our Junior School, STEM forms a key pillar of our curriculum with girls encouraged to code, engineer, explore, create and design. In addition, we offer a myriad of extra-curricular opportunities and we get our students to take part in the Youth STEMM Award scheme. We also offer scholarships to students who demonstrate excellence in these subjects. 

The last two years have turned the spotlight on the vital role STEM professionals play in the world. Following the emergence of COVID-19, a new generation now understands the impact that bioscientists, epidemiologists, vaccine developers, data scientists and medical device engineers can have on the lives of ordinary people. 

How can our girls fail to be inspired by the likes of Professor Sarah Gilbert, Catherine Green OBE, and Özlem Türeci – whose work on vaccines has quite literally changed all of our lives over the last eighteen months?!

The onus is on us as teachers to nurture the vaccine developers, scientists, engineers and mathematicians of the future – for the good of society and the planet. We have a moral obligation to encourage them to aim high, follow their dreams and make a positive contribution to wider society – seizing opportunities in STEM or whatever career path they want to take.


Focus: Safeguarding Our Future | On the Sofa with Frances Edmonds