June 23rd marks International Women in Engineering Day. This day aims to raise the profile of women in engineering, showcase the incredible career opportunities available in the sector and celebrate the amazing work of women engineers across the globe.
Scotland’s independent schools are leading the way when it comes to championing and engaging girls in engineering and wider STEM subjects.
In this blog, we hear from headteacher Tanya Davie about all the amazing achievements within the STEM sphere going on at Kilgraston School.
Breaking down stereotypes
At Kilgraston, we are smashing stereotypes. On average each year, two thirds of our leavers go on to study STEM subjects at university with 10% of these being undergraduate degrees in Engineering. It might be worth mentioning at this stage that whilst Kilgraston is a co-ed Junior School, our senior school is girls’ only and here, any preconceived ideas of what gender roles are, should be left at the door.
These statistics are particularly impressive when you compare these against a national UK average. According to data from UCAS, in 2021, 35% of STEM students in higher education in the UK are women. But the landscape of STEM has changed in recent years. Helped by a surge in popularity in STEM topics, there are reams of popular science podcasts to listen to and regular TV programmes featuring the likes of physicists Professor Brian Cox and Dara Ó Briain. The mainstream tides are turning, if slowly.
Engaging pupils from the outset
We believe that to succeed in STEM, pupils need to be engaged and submerged in these subjects from an early age. At Kilgraston, our Head of Physics had personal experience of studying physics at school, as one of just three girls in a class of 20.
This sort of ratio of boys to girls persisted into her early teaching career at co-ed high schools in Scotland where even now only 30 per cent of pupils who progress to study Higher Physics are girls.
Real-life success stories
Ciara Forgie is a Kilgraston alumnae from 2021, who is now studying aeronautical engineering at the University of Glasgow. She said: “Kilgraston allowed me to explore many career options. One of the most important and influential moments for me was a talk from an alumnae, who won an apprenticeship at Rolls Royce. This opened my eyes to the possibilities within aeronautical engineering.
“My Kilgraston education helped me not only through learning in the classroom. I participated in the STEM club which gave me experience of how to work within a team to overcome scientific and engineering challenges. We also took trips to learn about engineering in the workplace, for example visiting the engineering department in charge of designing the Queensferry Crossing. I also had the opportunity to see the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. These experiences beyond the classroom, as well as brilliant and supportive teachers, allowed me to be in the position I am in today.”
Evie Lindsay, another Kilgraston alumnae, adds: “Until Upper Fifth, I wanted to study Law at university. I did not even take Biology for Standard Grade (now National 5) and had to crash Higher Human Biology in Lower Sixth. I was supported all the way through at Kilgraston.”
Evie graduated from Kilgraston in 2014, going on to study Natural Sciences (Biological) at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge. She was the Cambridge cox in the 2017 Boat Race and is now a British Army Officer.
She concludes: “Kilgraston taught me to have self-confidence and a genuine love of learning. I believe that learning should not always be for the sake of exams, but should primarily be because you are interested. Kilgraston fostered this in me and let me enjoy learning.”