Our Director of Programmes, Julie Randles, on getting more young people into STEM-related careers.
There’s a lot of buzz around STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) at the moment, and rightly so.
STEM skills are absolutely vital to the UK economy and are becoming relevant in more and more sectors, from retailers needing coders to develop their websites to teachers helping children develop appropriate skills. Yet according to a recent CBI report, over half of businesses predict a shortfall in experienced STEM-skilled staff in the future.
Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are often at a further disadvantage when it comes to getting qualifications in STEM subjects. Our recent research found that only 53% of highly-able pupil premium students study triple sciences at GCSE, compared to 69% of those not receiving the Pupil Premium and one in five schools don’t event offer triple science at GCSE. Furthermore, only 21% of bright but disadvantaged students are taking an AS level in Maths, compared to 33% of their more advantaged peers.
The current teacher recruitment crisis in teaching is particularly marked in STEM subjects too: a National Audit Office report found that 28% of secondary physics classes are being taught by teachers without a relevant post-A Level qualification.
The barriers don’t end there. Last week I went to the launch of a research report commissioned by the Your Life campaign, an industry-led and Government supported campaign that aims to show young people the dynamic career opportunities unlocked by studying science and maths. Their research found that, alarmingly, the low uptake of STEM after GCSE is partly because most young people see them as a dead end.
There are many reasons for this, from a perception that STEM subjects are more difficult to thinking they have a limited career relevance. Girls are often put off studying STEM because some related careers seem to have a “masculine” image. There’s also a lack of recognition of status; at the Your Life launch we heard from an inspirational young woman, highly qualified in engineering, who pointed out that in France and Germany only fully-qualified engineers can call themselves Engineers, whereas in the UK even the person who comes to set up your satellite television will call themselves one.
So what’s to be done?
At the Sutton Trust our programmes improve aspirations for bright but disadvantaged students, and many of our Summer Schools include STEM-related strands. We’ve also recently launched a Pathways to STEM programme and are intending to do far more work in this area; I’d be delighted to hear from anyone who would be interested in partnering with us on this.
Meanwhile, the Your Life campaign is calling for multiple responses, from employers broadening the appeal of science and engineering careers for girls, to parents and teachers changing the message students are getting from “it’s hard” to “you can do it”. They found that students make positive STEM choices after speaking to only 4 role models; it’s incumbent on all of us to be those role models.
Find out more:
Email [email protected] about our Pathways to STEM programme