NPP Projects

Mathematics Pathways to STEM Careers (Pathways to STEM)

Lead University: Murdoch University

Lead Researcher: Andrew Taggart

Research Team: Andrew Taggart, Helen Docherty and Lynette Vernon

Year Funded: 2016

Funding Received: $166,433


The Pathways to STEM program provided mathematics support to Year 11 and 12 regional and remote students in Western Australia, combining technology-enabled tutorial sessions after school twice a week; individual access to tutors to address specialised questions; and intensive on-campus ATAR preparation sessions. The project facilitated students’ learning, encouraged development of thinking skills and provided a pathway from secondary to tertiary education.

Project outline

  • The Pathways to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) project had two main objectives:
    • Provide mathematics support to students in ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) Mathematics Specialist and Mathematics Methods programs in selected schools across the Great Southern, Wheatbelt and Peel regions of Western Australia.
    • Strengthen mathematics competence and provide a pathway to university for Year 12 students who are unlikely to achieve an ATAR ranking high enough to be accepted to a university without external support; and enhance understanding of pathways to university among students and the school community.
  • The project included the following components:
    • Appointment of a project manager.
    • Appointment of mathematics tutors (Murdoch University undergraduates).
    • Training of the mathematics tutors by staff in the Mathematics Faculty to deliver school student tutorials.
    • Visiting schools in the chosen regions and establishing compacts (MOUs) between schools and Murdoch University.
    • Development of a research and evaluation strategy to gather information from participating students, their parents and teachers. Information gathering included surveys and focus groups.

Key findings

  • The key findings from the first objective — providing mathematics support to students in ATAR Mathematics Specialist and Mathematics Methods, included:
    • 85 Year 12 students from 14 schools received ATAR Mathematics Specialist and Mathematics Methods tutoring, with 64 students attending the specialised ATAR preparation week held at the University with residential university accommodation. Of the 14 schools, five were in the Great Southern, two were in the Wheatbelt, and seven were in the Peel Region.
  • The key findings from the second objective — strengthening mathematics competence and providing a pathway to university, included:
    • Pathways to universities were strengthened for the participating students:
      • 86 per cent of the students in the program applied to go to university.
      • 74 per cent of those that applied to university chose a STEM course.
      • 78 per cent of the students were either enrolled in university in 2018 or had accepted a deferred place.
  • The project also recorded some other achievements:
    • The program provided external support to mathematics high school students for retention and greater attainment in higher level mathematics: three government schools improved their median ATAR scores of 75+ by between three and seven per cent.
    • Government schools participating in the Pathways to STEM program increased ATAR participation from 32.9 per cent in 2015 to 35.6 per cent in 2017 (despite a declining trend in Western Australian government schools).
    • For government schools participating in the Pathways to STEM program which could report a median ATAR, the median ATAR ranking increased from 66.71 in 2016 to 72.09 in 2017.
    • Participating high school students improved their cognitive and emotional engagement throughout the project as noted by themselves, their teachers and their parents.
    • The ATAR Revision Week saw 64 students attend the Perth campus for ATAR preparation classes; 30 students stayed in campus accommodation.
    • Students reported improved engagement in mathematics; increased knowledge of the university campus through the firsthand experience of “university life”; alongside being able to meet their tutors and gain valuable support during ATAR revision week.

Summary prepared by NCSEHE.


Posted 1 October 2018