In July 2018, Samantha Price, Headmistress at Benenden School, flew in a light aircraft that her pupils had built themselves. The Benenden girls had been building the microlight for 18 months, and after plenty of hard work it finally took to the skies. This incredible engineering project was run in association with the British Microlight Aircraft Association and is an example of Samantha’s passion to develop the engineers of the future.
How are you ensuring that Benenden pupils are engaged in STEM?
Creating a culture where a girl becoming interested in science or product design is the norm, not an exception. You need engineering to be something pupils are familiar with; something they see around school and feel confident with. Being in an all-girl environment undoubtedly helps us in this regard as girls are therefore more naturally encouraged to engage with these male-dominated subjects. It is important to offer practical projects for girls to get involved in and hear from experts who are working in their fields. That is how you inspire the next generation. You also need to invest in this crucial area of the curriculum: for example, we have just appointed a dedicated Head of STEM to oversee all of our STEM activity as we develop and embed it further.
Why do you think it is important that more women work in STEM?
Schools have a responsibility to inspire young women into pursuing engineering roles, and not just because the shortage of candidates in a growing market makes it an attractive career option, but for the good of the country. Tomorrow’s engineers will be developing products that could shape our future lives and post-Brexit, the Government will be keen for UK engineering to be at the forefront of this revolution. As with all professions, it is important to have a gender balance and women make very good engineers.
How have you seen attitudes towards STEM change over the years?
I think for too long the STEM subjects were taught in isolation and it took the education system time to understand that if the subjects worked together they could offer young people a really strong education that encompassed elements of all these different subjects, providing a greater practical understanding of the potential that studying STEM subjects offers us. Ultimately, the country benefits from better engineers and we need to continue to improve the teaching and the experiences that we offer pupils – and, of course, there is a pressing need to keep up with the technological changes, probably even more than in other teaching areas.
In terms of STEM at Benenden, what has been your proudest moment so far?
Undoubtedly it was when I flew in a microlight last month which had been built from scratch by a group of 28 Benenden girls. They have done it all; every nut and bolt has been tightened by the girls themselves, as part of a wonderful project with the British Microlight Aircraft Association. To be flown in an aircraft built by my pupils wasn’t just a proud moment related to STEM, it was one of the proudest moments in my entire teaching career. I don’t know of another girls’ school to have taken on such a project and I would urge other schools to give it a go because the knowledge and skills it teaches pupils are invaluable.
Benenden School: benenden.kent.sch.uk