STEM in England: meanings and motivations in the policy arena

Victoria Wong, Justin Dillon, Heather King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
321 Downloads (Pure)


STEM, an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, is widely used in science education. There is confusion, however, as to its provenance and meaning which is potentially problematic. This study examines the purpose and underlying philosophy of STEM practice in education in England and asks if there are differences in perceptions of STEM between science and mathematics educator stakeholders. The study’s contribution to the literature is its unusual focus on those who were responsible for making and enacting national STEM policy. A two-phase qualitative approach was followed comprising an analysis of government documentation related to STEM initiatives together with semi-structured interviews with 21 key contributors to the science and mathematics education discourse in England. Using thematic analysis, recurring patterns were identified in the data. Findings suggest that there is a disconnect between the interpretations of the science and mathematics educators with a danger/advantage dichotomy to participation in STEM being perceived by the mathematics educators. Potential danger did not appear to be felt by science educators, possibly as science was perceived as dominant in STEM discourse. Broader early aims of the architects of the STEM agenda, including those of increasing diversity among STEM students, gave way to a focus on numbers of post-16 physics and mathematics students. We conclude that if the term STEM is to continue to be used then there is a need for greater clarity about what it represents in educational terms and a wider debate about its compatibility with the aims of science education for all.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2346-2366
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Science Education
Issue number15
Early online date7 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2016


  • STEM
  • mathematics
  • policy development


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