How Can We Support Our Future Engineers?

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Are we giving all children the support they need in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths?

Assessment provider GL Assessment has warned: tens of thousands of highly able children are failing to get good science GCSEs, because their innate talents are masked by poor verbal reasoning skills. As a result, the country is squandering a large, untapped reserve of young scientists and engineers.

Hidden Talents:

Firstly, what is Spatial Thinking? Learners with high spatial abilities, who tend to think initially in images before converting them into words, can excel in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects. However, GL Assessment believes, if these learners also have poor verbal reasoning skills, this can have a detrimental effect on their exam scores and subsequent careers.

What are the statistics?

An analysis of more than 20,000 pupil and conducted by GL Assessment, revealed over four-fifths of children who had both high spatial and high verbal reasoning abilities achieved A*-B across all STEM subjects and English at GCSE last year. But, children with high spatial abilities and poor verbal reasoning skills – approximately 4% of the school population or 30,000 at GCSE level – significantly underperformed*. This equates to 400,000 children across primary and secondary schools.


GL Assessment’s findings mirror research in the US. Professor Jonathan Wai of Duke University in North Carolina warned:

“… students who have high spatial but relatively low verbal scores, are likely to be ‘missed as being talented’ because traditional schools systems ‘value students who are good at reading, writing and doing math’.


Last week, I chaired a webinar on the research findings and interviewed Sarah Haythornthwaite, Director at GL Assessment.

“We know that students with a bias towards spatial learning should do well in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the visual arts. And we also know that spatial learners tend to process information in a different way,” Sarah said.

Unfortunately, their talents often go unrecognised. Partly because most teachers are excellent communicators and tend to have strong verbal skills, partly because spatial thinkers often don’t speak up in class, and partly because so much of the curriculum and assessment regimes – particularly at primary – are predicated on verbal skills.”

Consequently, because their abilities were too often overlooked and the challenges they had with literacy and oracy not sufficiently addressed, Ms Haythornthwaite said, the country was missing out “on tens of thousands of potential scientists, mathematicians and engineers”.

Girls into STEM

Today is International Women in Engineering Day. Hidden Talents quote’s WISE statistics that found:

  1. only 7% of the girls who take STEM GCSEs will go on to qualify at Level 4 in a core STEM area.
  2. it’s 21% for boys.

What practical action can be taken so that a higher percentage of women can be celebrated on this day? The report highlights giving girls access to role models and inviting local engineering employees into schools.

You can read more in the report below and visit the site here.