Stumped by science: parents want their kids to take an interest in STEM subjects but feel ill-equipped to help

  • Almost two thirds of parents have a good grasp of numbers, but science subjects still pose an issue
  • More than eight in ten parents feel it is important for their children to be interested in STEM subjects
  • Yet parents are more likely to feel out of their depth than confident in their ability to give homework help
  • E.ON is partnering with British engineer and broadcaster, Kate Bellingham, to launch its new online resources for parents to help inspire and support STEM learning

As the school year begins, new research released by E.ON1 today highlights that science remains a subject that leaves many parents stumped when it comes to helping with homework.

Polling 2,000 UK parents of children aged five to sixteen, E.ON found that more than eight in ten (83%) parents feel Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects are important or very important to their children’s development, indicating widespread awareness of the need to help the younger generation feel engaged and comfortable with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths subjects.

However, many parents say they feel unprepared to help with a lot of the questions that come their way. Parents are more likely to feel out of their depth (41%) than confident (28%) in their ability to help with homework and one in seven (15%) say they feel completely helpless.

The research shows that the majority of parents have a good grasp of numbers but highlights that science still poses an issue. When asked how they felt when helping their children with different school subjects, significantly more parents reported feeling confident about helping with Maths (60%) than Biology (49%), Physics (36%) or Chemistry (35%).

To help, E.ON is today launching a new set of online resources on its 'Energise Anything!' hub, aimed at supporting children aged between five and fourteen years.  The resources are available to teachers and parents to facilitate pupils’ learning in the STEM space.

Barriers to helping with homework

On average, parents are spending two hours a week helping their kids with homework but say their confidence is a key barrier preventing them from giving their best guidance. More than a third (36%) say they struggle to understand the questions or subjects and 15% do not feel they are giving the right help.

However, almost half (49%) of parents see homework as an opportunity to spend time with their children by finding the right answer together online and broadening both their understanding.

Almost a quarter of parents avoid the homework task altogether by either choosing to get their partner to help instead (23%) or by encouraging their children to ask their teacher (23%).  And nearly one in twenty (4%) will pretend they know the answer even when they don’t.

Others go to greater lengths with one in seven (14%) parents saying they’d rather clean the house or do the washing up than help with homework, whereas one in ten would prefer to do laundry (12%).

The age-old question

When it comes to Maths, parents are most confident helping younger children between the ages of eight and ten (70%). This confidence drops off significantly when they get to the ages of fourteen to sixteen (51%). Parents of children aged between eight to ten spend the longest helping with homework overall (2.26 hours a week compared with 1.52 hours a week for those with fourteen to sixteen year olds).

Parents of eight to ten year old children are the most likely to say they feel completely helpless when their child asks for help with STEM subjects (19%). Over a third (36%) struggle to understand the questions or subjects and, perhaps as a result, nearly a quarter (22%) of this group say they’d rather do the washing up than help with homework.

Testing times

Although kids everywhere will start preparing to take SATs and GCSEs, many parents admit that they would find it difficult to face the same exams. Less than half believe they could pass a Key Stage 3 Science test (46%) usually sat by children aged thirteen/fourteen years. The same is true for more advanced qualifications, with less than a quarter of parents saying they could pass a GCSE Physics (24%) or Chemistry (23%) exam. It’s a similar story for Biology (31%). 

Suzanne Doxey, Community Relations Manager at E.ON, said: “STEM subjects form the basis for a surprising number of different career paths, so it’s vital that we encourage our children to feel confident and engaged with these topics from a young age. Helping kids to feel confident now will help them to feel more positive about Maths and Science in the future – our research shows that parents’ lack of confidence about these subjects at school has stayed with them and impacted their ability as adults.

“We know that parents want their children to understand and feel comfortable with STEM subjects – and that they value the opportunity to learn new things together as part of helping with homework. Our online learning programmes have been supporting children’s learning for many years now, and our new set of resources is designed to help parents and children discover more about STEM. Overall we want to make learning as engaging as possible, but also fun and memorable at the same time.”

Kate Bellingham, Engineer and Broadcaster, said: “Confidence plays a vital role in helping our children get to grips with STEM subjects, so it’s important to give them a good grounding at a young age.  Children aged eight to ten are developing a sense of their own scientific abilities and will often need support with this, yet it is this group of parents who say they sometimes struggle to feel well-equipped to help. 

“E.ON’s new resources aim to encourage parents and children to learn together and, as a mother, I believe it’s really valuable to show an interest in your child's studies and, even better, do science investigations together at home.  For those less confident about doing this, these E.ON resources provide engaging examples which are relevant to the curriculum and have lots of backup information to help fill any knowledge-gaps for the adult. It’s an excellent concept. 

“When children see that others in the family are willing to explore scientific ideas and improve their own understanding, I’m sure it will empower the children to do the same. It’s great to see resources like E.ON’s which are geared towards building confidence not just in children, but in parents and carers (and therefore broader society), which will help ensure our children are switched-on when it comes to STEM.”  

E.ON’s learning resources are available for free to teachers and parents to help inspire the next generation. Learn more by visiting the business’s ‘Energise Anything!’ hub: eonenergy.com/energiseanything



Notes to editors

1. Research conducted by OnePoll in August 2016 with 2,000 UK parents of children aged five to sixteen years old.


For more information contact:

Jane Branscombe: 02476 183 681 / jane.branscombe@eon-uk.com

Jag Bickham: 02476 181 308 / jag.bickham@eon-uk.com

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Published by Jane Branscombe