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Engineering GCSE entries fall 31% amid poor understanding of what engineers do

Joseph Flaig

'Young people’s knowledge of engineering across all education stages still needs to be improved' (Credit: Shutterstock)
'Young people’s knowledge of engineering across all education stages still needs to be improved' (Credit: Shutterstock)

Almost half (47%) of 11 to 19-year-olds know “little or almost nothing” about what engineers do, a new report has revealed.

The report, Educational Pathways into Engineering, also revealed that gender equality in engineering and technology degrees will not be achieved for another three decades if current trends continue.

Aimed at providing a “comprehensive picture of the trends in Stem educational participation and attainment”, the report was carried out by Engineering UK. The organisation has also released Engineering Insights, a digital resource tracking the economic implications of the coronavirus pandemic on engineering.

“Young people’s knowledge of engineering across all education stages still needs to be improved,” the report announcement said. Some 42% of boys and 31% of girls reportedly said they know what they need to do next to become an engineer.

"You have to think of ways to integrate it into the curriculum. The struggle with that is that teachers don't have a good enough knowledge of what engineering is to then apply that to their subjects," said Lydia Amarquaye, professional development and education policy advisor at the IMechE.

"The stereotype has for a long time been doing things with buildings, trains and cars. That again limits what people see as engineering and how varied a career in engineering can be... as an engineering community, we can support by giving examples of how the things they are learning in science and technology apply in real life." 

The report showed an ‘acute’ shortage of Stem subject teachers in secondary and further education. Almost three-quarters of further education college principals ranked engineering as the most difficult subject to recruit for.

While GCSE entries in maths, science and computing have risen, entries for design, technology and engineering have fallen. Entries for maths and double science rose by 4% and 5% respectively in 2019, whereas entries for engineering fell 31% and design and technology fell by 22%.

In higher education, the proportion of engineering and technology degree entrants who were female increased by 5% over the nine years to 2018-19. Women still made up just 21% of entrants however, despite making up 57% of the student population.

More opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and ethnic minorities are also ‘urgently’ needed in engineering, the report said, with the coronavirus lockdown and school disruption likely to make things more difficult. At school, black pupils were 2.5-times more likely to be misallocated to a lower maths set than white pupils.

“We decided to publish the report as planned to highlight the barriers that existed prior to the pandemic, and that are now likely to mean it’s even more challenging – and only more important – to increase the number and diversity of young people choosing engineering,” said Dr Hilary Leevers, chief executive of EngineeringUK.

“We need to work together to understand what causes under-representation of certain groups of young people progressing into engineering and how tackle it at every stage. We will need to: improve knowledge of engineering through the curriculum; support teachers and schools to deliver high quality Stem education and careers guidance; and ensure that our education system is fit to cultivate the skills needed for the UK, now and in the future.”

The Educational Pathways into Engineering report can be viewed here and Engineering Insights: the economic impact of Covid-19 on UK engineering can be accessed here.


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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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