British Science Association: CREST Silver Award – enquiry based learning in science

The CREST Awards programme, which has been running in schools for 30 years, engages pupils in ‘hands-on science’, with teachers using a framework of activities developed by the British Science Association (BSA) to help students run their own research projects. The overall aim is to give students an understanding of ‘real world’ science and to build transferable skills for further education and future employment.

CREST projects are student-led, with each student, or team of students, choosing the question they wish to explore and carrying out the necessary research (including both desk research and practical work). There are four levels of award: Discovery, Bronze, Silver and Gold, with each requiring increasing amounts of teacher and student time. This project would test the Silver Award, which includes around 30 hours of project work and is typically undertaken by pupils at the end of Key Stage 3 or start of Key Stage 4. This project will test the impact of the programme on Year 9 pupils.

Why are we funding it?

BSA recently worked with Pro Bono Economics to undertake a quasi-experimental study looking at the impact of their CREST Awards programme. Data collected by BSA on students starting Silver CREST Awards between 2010 and 2013, were linked to data in the National Pupil Database. This enabled the CREST participants to be matched with a control group of students who did not take part in CREST, but had similar characteristics to those who did. The study found that students who took CREST achieved half a grade higher on their best science GCSE result and that FSM eligible students made even greater progress, increasing their best GCSE science score by two thirds of a grade. The next useful step would be to test the approach through a randomised controlled trial, which will provide stronger evidence about the impact of the programme.

How are we evaluating it?

The CREST programme will be evaluated by a team from NatCen. The project is an effectiveness trial, meaning that we are testing the programme as it is delivered at scale and in a large number of schools. The trial is structured as a two-arm randomised control trial (RCT), with 200 schools randomised to treatment or a business as usual control.

Year 9 pupils within the treatment schools will have the opportunity to attend a CREST club. The primary outcome will be science as measured by a standardised science test at the end of Year 9. The secondary outcomes will include progression to GCSE study (focusing on the type of science qualification they take and the numbers progressing to different routes, including progression to study triple science) and a character measure looking at science-specific attitudes and aspirations.

When will the evaluation report be due?

The evaluation report will be published in Autumn 2019.