Funding for STEM

Astrophysicist Dr Mark Gallaway has secured more than £500,000 in STEM funding for education

So, you have a brilliant idea for an activity to encourage interest in STEM subjects. Maybe it’s a piece of equipment or an external activity provider, a school trip or a club. The only question is how to pay for it.

Look around you

Start making connections. There is a vast array of people out there who can help you, from independent STEM educators (like me), to charities and universities with programmes to widen participation. There are also plenty of excellent support groups on social media.

Local STEM employers may be able to supply surplus lab or engineering equipment to your school, or they might allow staff to help with school activities or give career talks. Such activities are a way for businesses to improve staff communication skills and morale, as well as increasing a company’s engagement with the community. Make sure that what you are asking aligns with a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility goals – and tell them how! STEM recruitment is a major problem in the UK and school activities help improve the pool of potential staff.

Local government departments, as well as organisations such as the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP), may be open to applications for funding. Most LEPs have some kind of educational programme and will be looking at how to build and promote the key skills needed in your region.

Launching your bid

As well as helping schools to access funding, I have also evaluated funding bids on behalf of funding bodies. Here is my step-by-step approach to boosting your chances of grant success. As with any science project, it’s all about preparation and pressing the right buttons.

Allow plenty of time

Everything takes longer than you think. No matter how simple it may seem to pull together a project, there are often a lot of steps involved in submitting a proposal. Plan your application and make sure you’ve got all the paperwork required. Go through the funding requirements and make a list of what you need to gather and do.

Choose your funder and scheme carefully

Speak to the funders. Ask questions to get an insight into which schemes might suit your idea. Funders sometimes run workshops or webinars to explain their funding rules and what they expect. Some bigger trusts have dedicated advisors who can help.

Read the guidance and eligibility notes

Funders provide guidance as to what they will fund and what they will not. You would not believe the number of bids I had to reject (as an evaluator) because they didn’t follow the guidance. If you are bidding for funding to cover one part of your project, then include information on how you plan to pay for the rest. For instance, if a grant-giver will not fund staffing costs, then who will? If the funder has examples of previously successful bids, read them.

Get the right partners

Create a collaborative network within your organisation and beyond. The wider the range of ideas, the more interesting concepts you will come up with. Bids for more money and from multiple schools are often more likely to be successful because they are going to have a bigger and wider impact. Highlight your relevant skills, experience and previous successes.

Match funding

It’s much easier to get a grant if you already have others committed to your project. Some funders specifically require match funding, so do check. Match funding doesn’t need to be financial. It could be staff from a company giving their expertise for free, or donations of kit. Local companies, PTAs and school funds are useful sources of small amounts of match funding.

Consider your audience

Your bid is likely to be one of many, so make sure it stands out. Be clear about who your activity will impact and what your aims and objectives are.

Consider the impact

How will the funding impact your cohort and how are you going to measure this? If the funding is more than £1,000 you might need an impact report. If it is a large bid, you could consider an external evaluation.

Include relevant data

Is your school in a socially deprived area? What are your FSM and pupil premium numbers? Do you have a lot of ESL or SEN students? If you are working with a university widening participation department, they might be able to give you data from HEAT (Higher Education Access Tracker) to show how students from your school have progressed.

Tell a compelling story

A bid tells the story of how the characters (that’s you) make the world a better place and impact the lives of others, thereby helping the funder to achieve its goals. Explain the problem, who it affects, why it needs fixing and how you are going to fix it.

Get your proposal reviewed

Ask a reviewer to read your bid to make sure you have a clear plan that aligns with the funder’s requirements.

Final checks

Make sure you submit the bid on time. Some funders let you modify the bid once it is submitted but others don’t. I often submit a few days in advance, to give myself time to address anything that might go wrong. If you can’t edit the bid after the submission, it might be worth having a document shared with the bid team so you can put all the information into the required format.

The learning process

Don’t get despondent if your bid is rejected. Ask for feedback – if you didn’t get it this time, you might be successful next time.

  • Dr Mark Gallaway runs the physics education company Starlight STEM, which holds workshops and visits schools with a mobile planetarium.

Possible funding sources

Find out about the following grants for science and more, by logging into the FundEd grants database.

  • Royal Society of Chemistry Outreach Fund
  • Royal Society Partnership Grants and Tomorrow’s Climate Scientists grants
  • Royal Institution Science in Schools grant scheme
  • British Science Week Grants and Kick Start grants
  • Institute of Mathematics: Education Grant Scheme
  • CREST Awards underrepresented audiences
  • EdufundUK Hertfordshire
  • The Royal Academy of Engineering ‘Ingenious’ Award
  • Gopher Science Lab grants.

Join FundEd to access our database featuring over £14m of grants for schools