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Minister Foley announces the publication of Recommendations on Gender Balance in STEM Education

Minister for Education Norma Foley TD today, 8 March, announced the publication of Recommendations on Gender Balance in STEM Education. The recommendations were informed by the Department of Education’s Gender Balance in STEM Advisory Group.


Minister Foley said: “I am delighted to be able to launch these important recommendations which will help us to achieve a greater gender balance in STEM, on International Women’s Day. It is important for all of us in the education and STEM communities to acknowledge that there is a need to move away from seeking a change in girls’ attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, towards seeking to change structures, policies and broader representation of STEM in society, to ultimately break down the barriers to more balanced participation for all learners.


”The publication of these recommendations today is the culmination of much time and commitment given by our Gender Balance in STEM Advisory Group. The group is made up of representation from across the education and STEM stakeholders, including representation from schools, students, parents, initial teacher education, third level, STEM organisations, personal representatives and the Department of Education.


”I want to thank each group member for all their work and in particular that of the chair Margie McCarthy (SEAI and formerly SFI). Their dedication to progressing gender balance in STEM and in the development of the recommendations is to be commended.”


The recommendations follow on from ‘A Review of Literature to Identify a Set of Effective Interventions for Addressing Gender Balance in STEM in Early Years, Primary and Post-Primary Education Settings, commissioned by the advisory group in 2019 and published in November 2020.


Chair of the Gender Balance in STEM Education Advisory Group, Margie McCarthy said:

“It was critically important to have this evidence base to inform the recommendations. Our goal was to guide national actions to ensure world-class, inclusive STEM education in Ireland for our young people. The review was the foundation to identifying that, to make a difference, a coordinated approach and actions are needed across the constituent parts including schools, teachers, families and society.”


The literature review sets out what is known about critical barriers to girls’ participation in STEM education and STEM learning, while also highlighting effective interventions to increase participation of girls in STEM.  It points to the fact that there is no single intervention that will achieve gender equity, rather there is a requirement to support multiple interventions to effect the change required. 


There are four key areas for action which build on, and are additional to, the extensive actions identified in the STEM Education Implementation Plan 2017-2019:

  • Improve equity of participation across all STEM curriculum areas/subject choices by instilling whole-school culture change, to include early years leaders and educators, /school leaders, practitioners/teachers and parents/guardians
  • Provide effective support in relation to practice in STEM for early years practitioners educators and teachers
  • Support equitable learner access to, and experiences of, STEM to inspire learning, foster creativity and prepare for later engagement and success
  • Support a societal and cultural shift to address current barriers to gender balance in STEM.

The16 recommendations set out in the publication today will address these key areas. These recommendations were developed with a view to addressing the issues of equity of access and inclusion, rather than just gender balance. By addressing the wider diversity issue in STEM, gender balance in STEM will benefit.


A copy of the Recommendations on Gender Balance in STEM is attached.


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Notes to Editors


The STEM Education Policy Statement acknowledge the strengths in STEM education provision in Ireland and acknowledges that a number of challenges also exist. Challenges identified include the need to increase participation of females in STEM education and careers, increase the number of students choosing STEM subjects in post-primary schools and raising an interest in, and awareness of the range of exciting careers in STEM.


Background to the Recommendations

As part of its remit the Advisory Group was tasked with developing recommendations to further gender balance in STEM education, from early years to post-primary level, by the Department of Education’s STEM Education Implementation Advisory Group. In the development of the recommendations, the group took into consideration the significant work, both formal and informal, that is already being undertaken across STEM education.


The advisory group commenced work by commissioning a literature review to identify a set of effective interventions for addressing gender balance in STEM in early years, primary and post- primary settings. It was agreed that while there were many interventions underway in Ireland, little was understood on what was effecting change. Following analysis of the report the group agreed that no single intervention will achieve gender equity, rather there is a requirement to support multiple interventions addressing different segments of the ecosystem to effect the change required. To improve interest, engagement, self- perceptions and enjoyment of all learners, any gender inclusive strategy will require measures that address barriers arising in the home, in the education setting and in society at large.


The Advisory Group is clear that good effort is underway throughout Ireland in addressing STEM skills, however there is much room for improvement, with gaps in activity and a need to view all the efforts collectively to ensure the desired outcome is being met.


The Gender Balance in STEM Education Advisory Group (the Advisory Group):

The terms of reference for the group are as follows:

  • Assist the Department of Education in identifying key challenges to, and opportunities to promote, the uptake of STEM subjects at post-primary level (action 1.1.1 of the policy statement) 
  • Assess best practice methodologies to address key challenges and maximise these opportunities to promote the uptake of STEM subjects at post-primary level. 
  • Make recommendations for a co-ordinated response to these identified challenges and opportunities to include strategies such as pilot programmes (Action 1.1.2 of the policy statement) 
  • Consider potential means of removing barriers to STEM subjects offered by post-primary schools and make recommendations to address these barriers (Action 1.1.8 of the policy statement) 


The advisory group will seek identification of actions for Phase 2 Implementation plan and oversight, development and delivery of these actions. 


The work of the advisory group is informed by and contributes to other work relating to implementation of actions in the STEM Education Policy Statement and Implementation Plan. 


Membership of the Advisory Group which developed the recommendations is as follows:

  • Margie McCarthy (Chair)       Formerly Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), now Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) (Left the group August 2021)
  • Catrina Carrigan                     Teen Turn
  • Mary Cunneen                        University College Dublin
  • (joined in September 2020, to represent Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin during maternity leave)   
  • Merrilyn Goos                         University of Limerick
  • (joined the group following the publication of the literature review in November 2020 and left the group in May 2021)
  • Shalini Hollingum                    CWIT (Connecting Women In Technology)
  • Dee Kehoe                              Engineers Ireland
  • Áine Lynch                              National Parents Council - Primary
  • Eilish McLoughlin                    Dublin City University
  • Karen Murtagh                        Department of Education
  • Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin       University College Dublin
  • Paul Nugent                            Santa Sabina Dominican College
  • Niall O’Connor                        Ardgillan College (Left the group in October 2020)
  • Caroline O’Driscoll                  iWISH
  • Marion Palmer                        WITS (Women in Technology and Science)
  • Maeve Price                           Department of Education
  • Charles Tracy                         Institute of Physics (joined October 2020)



Setting the recommendations:

A series of meeting of the group took place between January 2020 and July 2021. During this time progress slowed for a period due to the impact of the Covid-19 restrictions on the Department of Education and the members of the advisory group. 


STEM Education Policy Statement

The Department of Education’s STEM Education Policy Statement 2017–2026, published in November 2017, sets out the ambitious goals and actions required to achieve and improve the STEM education experience and outcomes for all learners.

The policy statement acknowledges that while there are many strengths in STEM education provision in Ireland at present, a number of challenges also exist. These include the need to

  • Ensure the continued improvement in Irish students’ learning in STEM disciplines, including the further development of skills such as problem-solving, inquiry-based learning and team working to address demands from the world of work
  • Increase the number of students choosing STEM subjects in post-primary schools, those progressing to STEM pathways in further or higher education and those who take up careers in STEM
  • Increase participation of females in STEM education and careers
  • Raise interest in, and awareness of the range of exciting careers in STEM


Current position

The STEM implementation plan 2017-2019 built on a range of reforms and initiatives already underway in STEM, in areas such as curriculum and assessment reform, teacher professional development, embedding digital learning and advances in initial teacher education.  The areas of policy development and action in relation to STEM education span 4 pillars as follows:

  • Nurture learner engagement and participation;
  • Enhance early years practitioner and teacher capacity;
  • Support STEM education practice; and
  • Use evidence to support STEM education.


Some of the achievements to date include:

  • Publication of guidelines in relation to forming business/industry-school partnerships
  • Ongoing STEM awareness campaign in conjunction with Science Foundation Ireland.
  • A professional development Framework which supports the cross-sectoral design and delivery of STEM professional development has been developed. The professional development Framework informs all of the Professional Development Service for Teacher’s STEM professional development design.
  • STEM related curricular reform to include the introduction of Computer Science for Leaving Certificate.
  • A Review of Literature to Identify a Set of Effective Interventions for Addressing Gender Balance in STEM in Early Years, Primary and Post-Primary Education Settings – a literature review and an assessment of current interventions on addressing gender based barriers to STEM education was published in November 2020.
  • Publication of Gender Balance in STEM Recommendations.
  • Imminent publication of STEM and the Arts Literature review         
  • Ongoing support of informal STEM education such as BTYSTE
  • Partnership by the Department of Education with SFI on its Discover Programme call in order to create opportunities for increased participation and engagement with STEM.



Next steps

The next phase of implementation will focus on ‘Embedding’ – after being delayed due to COVID-19 the development of this plan 2022-2026 is underway. Development includes a number of STEM education consultations to gather the views and opinions of key stakeholders to include pupils/students, schools, early years settings, higher and further education institutions, teachers, early years practitioners, parents, business and industry, education partners, STEM related organisations/associations and out-of-school STEM providers.