If we are to meet the needs of our economy then we must maintain the supply of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)-qualified graduates.
The number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-qualified graduates relies on the number of students enrolled on STEM courses at university and, clearly, the number of students studying STEM subjects at school. Hence, if we are to ensure a healthy supply of STEM-qualified graduates we must ensure sufficient numbers are enrolled and interested in STEM subjects at A Level, GCSE and Diploma.
Young people with good STEM skills are in demand. They are essential to the future of our society and economy. Lord Sainsbury, for example, stated: “In a world in which the UK’s competitive advantage will depend increasingly on innovation and high-value products and services, it is essential that we raise the level of STEM skills.”
There are many factors that militate against young people electing to study STEM subjects and thus pursue careers in related fields. There are many areas of action required if we are to motivate young people to study STEM and pursue related careers and we are encouraged by the initiatives already undertaken by the government.
We urge the government to:
- More positively promote Triple Science to able pupils. Pupils who achieve an equivalent standard to Level 6 in national tests (SATS) should be automatically opted-in to Triple Science to encourage them to further their science education. An opportunity to choose the Double Science award instead would need to be made available.
- Fully fund the re-skilling of teachers in science and mathematics. We applaud the introduction of government targets against which recruitment progress will be measured. The supply of science graduates each year is, however, insufficient to make real progress against these targets (eg 2,400 UK physics graduates each year) in the short to medium term. For the foreseeable future we will need to fund properly and promote the training of teachers in mathematics and science subjects in which they were not originally qualified. The government has already introduced a scheme to encourage this but the financial support provides insufficient incentive.
- Fund the provision of good quality science laboratories. This should start by properly defining “practical work” as “live” teacher demonstrations and hands-on pupil laboratory practical work. All new-build schools should have properly resourced laboratories that support this defined practical work. Existing facilities should be reviewed and brought up to a minimum acceptable level to support practical work.
- Award UCAS points according to level of difficulty. Students shouldn’t be punished for choosing challenging subjects; they should be rewarded.