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When Stem? A Question of Age

In this report we provide some background data on the UK education system and analyse research data and informed expert opinion, draw conclusions and make recommendations.

Ensuring a long-term adequate supply of engineers is vital for the continued and sustainable health, wealth and security of the UK. The engineering community expends considerable resources trying to engage with the next generation of potential engineers by enhancing Stem education.

But if a greater proportion of its resources were applied to a specific age range, would it have a more beneficial and longer-lasting effect on the perceptions, interests, study choices and career decisions of young people? If so, what is that age range, and how should we use our finite resource to best effect? 

In January 2010 we held an Education Forum, When Stem?, to assess the extent to which age is a factor in attitudes and aspiration towards subjects and careers. The view was that this is an important issue which has a significant impact, but that it is not sufficiently understood.

We therefore undertook a process of research and consultation with a wider range of subject experts; the issues raised at When Stem? guided this process. The report’s conclusions are shaped by data and expert opinion through both processes.

Key recommendations

  1. The engineering community should allocate a greater proportion of its resources to influencing the 11-14 age group. This is a key period during which children's interest in Stem often falls away; this influences their future decisions about whether to study Stem subjects and pursue Stem careers.
  2. The engineering community should work with the government and schools to investigate ways that engineering can add value to the curriculum. Activities that support these early secondary school years should link theory with practical activity and illustrate the real-world relevance of the maths and science curricula
  3. The government should promote non-transmissive teaching for Stem subjects in both primary and early secondary schools that encourages interactive learning. Teacher training should prepare secondary school teachers to understand how to build on primary school learning and experiences to create a positive response to, and progressive learning in, Stem subjects.


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