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Educating Engineers

Volume 563: debated on Thursday 16 May 2013

[Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]

[Relevant documents: The impact of Government reforms on 14-19 education, Seventh Report of the Science and Technology Committee, Session 2012-13, HC 665, and the Government response, HC 102.]

It is the first time I have served under your chairmanship, Mr Walker, so I welcome the opportunity to do so by addressing the Chamber on the Select Committee on Science and Technology’s report, “Educating tomorrow’s engineers: the impact of Government reforms on 14–19 education”. The Committee produced the report unanimously back in February. We dealt with the impacts of the English baccalaureate, university technical colleges and changes to the engineering diploma. I will also comment on the Government’s response to our report, and as we are in education mode, I will be generous and offer the Minister seven out of 10 for that response. It is a good score—I never got those sorts of marks in my classes.

Engineering is crucial to the economy. It has been estimated that the engineering work force produces a fifth of our GDP and half of UK exports. In 2010, the sector generated 25% of UK turnover—that is three times the size of the financial services sector. It is not just the economy that benefits from engineering; we also need to look at health care, energy, transport, construction, defence and many other sectors.

Despite engineering’s importance, the UK is facing a shortfall in the numbers and quality of engineers. About 820,000 science, engineering and technology professionals will be required by 2020, with 80% of those required in engineering. The engineering work force is ageing, and we will need around 82,000 engineers and technicians just to deal with the requirements up to 2016. That demand will not just be met by university graduates; we only produce 23,000 engineering graduates a year, and not all of them stay in engineering. The loss is a particular concern when it comes to women. Only 12% of engineering students in higher education are women, and it gets worse.

One of the most inspiring sessions that we did during the Committee’s inquiry involved three young ladies who came to speak to us. There was Kirsty, who is currently an apprentice at National Grid, Georgie, who was studying her A-levels, and Georgia, who was doing her GCSEs. They told us that a couple of things that were very important in getting ladies into engineering were having role models and having experience of engineering. Will the hon. Gentleman give us his thoughts on that?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. National Grid, in its briefing notes for the debate, quotes Kirsty, who said:

“I decided to do an apprenticeship as I could get qualifications and learn a trade at the same time; to do a job that means something; to be able to go into work in the morning and leave knowing I have made a difference to something.”

That young woman was an inspiring witness, as was a young lady from Novartis who spoke to the Cogent awards last year. She explained how she did a higher apprenticeship and was able to say cheerfully, at the end of it, that not only is she ahead of her peer group for her age, but she has a degree, and what is more, she does not have a student debt. She has done rather well. The hon. Gentleman is spot on in terms of the importance of women.

In the Queen’s Speech debate, I spoke about the importance of breaking the artificial barrier between vocational and academic qualifications. In the eyes of far too many people, there is a brick wall between vocational and academic. It is a continuum, and we need to support that continuum’s development.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his Committee wholeheartedly on the report—eight out of 10, I would say. He has just spoken about gender equality and gender issues in engineering, and there is a very good passage in his report on the subject. However, I could find no recommendations to address the issues of diversity when it comes to gender and engineering. Was that because he could not think of any, or have I missed them?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his response to the Gracious Address. It was interesting that the leaders of both parties commented on the sterling work that he is doing on engineering. My challenge to both Front-Bench Members is to follow their leaders and deliver on the quality of the work that the hon. Gentleman is doing.

To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question specifically, we were concentrating on 14-to-19 education. In my view, another part of the work that is needed is for us to work on developing continual professional development in schools, including, very importantly, among primary schools, because the seeds are sown at a much younger age. My simple answer is that the issue was outside the scope of our report, but he raises a very important point that ties back into the earlier debate, a large part of which I was privileged to sit in on.

We were keen to find out why there is such a mismatch between the demand and supply of engineers, and how subject choices were made, which is obviously part of it. Let us start with the English baccalaureate. The EBacc performance measure was introduced in 2011, but retrospectively applied to 2010 figures. It recognised where students have achieved a GCSE grade C or above in English, maths, sciences, history, geography and languages. Looking at the impact of the EBacc on engineering education, we heard mixed views. Some welcomed the EBacc’s focus on maths and sciences, which are important precursors for engineering. Some evidence shows that the EBacc has correlated with a greater uptake of science GCSEs. Some 93% of GCSE students are due to take a double or triple science GCSE in summer 2014, which is the highest proportion for two decades.

However, the EBacc has a downside for engineering, too. Maths and science GCSEs are not the only route into engineering. Important subjects such as design and technology are not included in the EBacc, and I know that a lot of companies agree with me on that point. About a quarter of the students accepted on to engineering degree courses in the UK have an A-level in design and technology. Worryingly, a qualification awarding body told us that some schools had been

“switching large numbers of students away from Product Design, Engineering, Manufacturing and Applied Science GCSEs.”

In some cases, that has happened when students were already six months into those programmes.

Although we welcome the EBacc’s focus on the attainment of maths and science GCSEs, we were concerned that important subjects such as design and technology are being adversely affected as schools focus on the EBacc. We recommended that the Government consider how to reward schools and recognise performance in non-EBacc subjects when it reviews the school accountability system.

The TechBacc—the technical baccalaureate—is an interesting development. It was designed when we were conducting our inquiry. In April, the Government announced the TechBacc performance measure as an

“alternative to the A level study route for post-16 education.”

We set out some hopes for the curriculum. First, the TechBacc should offer a broad base of education to facilitate a wide range of further study and career options. Secondly, the Government must endeavour to ensure that the TechBacc does not suffer from the cultural misconception that plagues vocational education—namely that it is for the less bright students, which comes back to my point about that important continuum.

Thirdly, and possibly most controversially, we concluded that schools must be incentivised to focus on the TechBacc and, therefore, that the TechBacc should be equivalent to the EBacc in all respects. A list of courses that will count towards the TechBacc will be published later this year, and I would welcome the Minister’s comments on whether the TechBacc will be equivalent to the EBacc for those schools that offer it. Could she also comment on how many schools might offer the TechBacc?

While the diploma in engineering is yet to prove itself, it has been in place since 2008. The qualification, which is for 14 to 19-year-olds, is available at three levels: foundation, higher and advanced. It sits alongside the traditional educational pathways of GCSEs and A-levels, and it offers students classroom-based learning, combined with work-related practical experience. The engineering level 2 diploma is equivalent to seven GCSEs, with a core principal learning component equivalent to five GCSEs.

As a result of the publication of the Wolf review of vocational education in March 2011, a vocational qualification will count as equivalent to only one GCSE in the 2014 key stage 4 performance tables. That means the engineering diploma would be equivalent to one GCSE in performance tables, despite requiring curriculum time equivalent to several.

The Government caused great unhappiness among engineers in 2012, when the change to the GCSE equivalence of the engineering diploma was announced. Employers considered the diploma to be excellent at providing the next generation of skilled engineers. In paragraph 17 of their response, the Government do not agree with us on vocational skills, saying:

“The performance table reforms were made following a full, public consultation and were not made in haste.”

There is a contradiction in the evidence there, and I would like the Government to publish their evidence, because it certainly conflicts with the evidence we heard.

The engineering community started discussions with the Government over redeveloping the diploma in May 2012. Then, in November 2012, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the engineering diploma would be “reworked”. During our inquiry, the Under-Secretary of State for Skills, the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), stated the reworked diploma “won’t be a diploma” but “four separate qualifications”. The Government expected the revamped qualifications to be available for students to sit as early as 2014.

Although we are pleased that the Government have been engaging with the engineering community to redesign the diploma, some of the damage already seems to have been done. The rapidly climbing numbers of students taking the diploma hit a peak and then started dropping. In one submission, the change was seen as

“a retrograde step, out-of-sync with government’s stated intentions to rebalance the economy towards manufacturing.”

We concluded that, in changing the engineering diploma, the Government potentially sent a poor message about the value of engineering education.

The engineering diploma is particularly popular with university technical colleges. UTCs integrate national curriculum requirements with technical and vocational elements. Recently, I was delighted, as part of my personal research for the report, to visit the JCB academy. Bamford is not seen as a natural friend of the Labour party, but, goodness me, he has done an amazing job in investing in that school. It is inspiring place; indeed, people can go into Arkwright’s original mill and see the school’s energy coming from the same mill races Arkwright used to run the mill, although the safety conditions have improved more than somewhat since those days. What an inspiring school; it helps its talented students to work in engineering by encouraging them to get inside problems and work on complex issues.

With his background, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), who speaks for the Opposition, would be intrigued to see how Shakespeare, for example, was taught. “Romeo and Juliet” was being taught when I visited, and I expected a secondary modern, linear approach, with the play being taught from beginning to end, but the students were writing an essay about the causes of conflict between and within families. What a good way of understanding what is, after all, a very complicated storyline. That is the way the teaching is done. It is an inspiring school, and it made me want to go back to school.

Just to reassure my hon. Friend, I should say that I am visiting the JCB Rocester academy on 5 July, and I am looking forward to it enormously.

My hon. Friend will find some very talented students, inspiring teachers and fantastic equipment. It is worth examining whether we can develop that in other UTCs.

As a Committee, we were really impressed by the UTCs, the students and the head teachers; we thought that they were a fantastic idea and that they should be rolled out. However, we had a little concern that that must not be at the expense of teaching science and engineering in mainstream schools. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could touch on that.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Government must focus on good engineering education in all schools and colleges, and not just silo it in a few specialist institutions. That is hugely important, and it is one of the issues we all need to consider in relation to the success of UTCs. We must not silo them, but integrate them as part of the mainstream offer; indeed, in some towns and cities, we must look at how schools can collaborate to make possible a wider spread of engineering skills among students. That is an important point.

We have just heard about the Education Committee’s inquiry into careers guidance. Its report set out in detail the importance of face-to-face careers advice for young people and recommended that

“the Department for Education introduces into the statutory guidance a requirement for schools to publish an annual careers plan, to include information on the support and resources available to its pupils in planning their career development.”

We looked at careers advice from the engineering perspective, and we concluded that the duty on schools to provide access to impartial, independent advice was laudable.

In principle, we support greater autonomy for schools to provide careers advice. However, the duty poses problems in practice. First, there are resource implications for schools, which are given more responsibility but no additional budget to secure careers guidance. Secondly, there is little guidance on the quality of careers guidance that should be available to students. That partly comes back to the fact that there is insufficient time in the school day for teachers to have the continuous professional development training that would enable them to be on top of what is happening in the economy and in the area surrounding the school. There is a gap, and successive Governments have tried to wrestle with the problem, but we must address it.

The quality of careers guidance can go up only if those giving it have at least some understanding of what being an engineer means. An interesting discovery that we made in research for another Committee report, entitled “Bridging the valley of death”, on the economics of developing small high-tech businesses, was that Lloyds Bank had found time to send some managers on engineering training courses. If a busy commercial bank can do it, it is not beyond the wit of Ministers to develop a similar scheme that would work for teachers, to try to help them to understand a bit more about the jobs available in the communities where they teach.

The hon. Gentleman has not yet touched on the value of experience in getting people interested in engineering. One witness went to a lecture on the Bloodhound supersonic car. That young lady said that for her it was a turning point: she had to study engineering, build cars and race them across the world. Opportunities for people to get experience in engineering are hugely important, whether they happen through work experience or education field trips. Does the hon. Gentleman have any thoughts on that?

I am a great believer in the importance of practical skills. The teacher I remember most—he is still alive and I met him a couple of years ago—was George Ellis, who taught me woodwork. George had a great talent, with children of any ability—hon. Members may make jokes about my ability—of breaking problems down to the practical level that they could cope with and building up a solution. That is how he taught children of disparate abilities. He was a passionate believer in getting young people out and about to see and experience things with their own eyes. Making an engine work—building it from scratch—and similar skills are ones that we seem to write off these days, because they are vocational and not academic.

That brings me back to my point about the importance of the continuum. Every one of us, whatever we do, needs that continuum of skills. I agree with the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley): the examples that we heard of kids going to see the Bloodhound project, and youngsters being involved in Big Bang and similar projects, are hugely important. The House should press for projects such as Big Bang to continue to be available for young people. We should try to get more state schools engaged in it. It would be great if Engineering UK ended up with a problem that was so big that it could not be managed as a national exhibition, but had to be broken down into regional exhibitions.

I am aware that it is going regional, but it is still not yet of such a scale that we can say that every school has bought into it. That should be our target: to help Engineering UK to achieve just that.

I was privileged enough, a few weeks ago, to go back to my old stomping ground in Portsmouth and to address the congress of the Engineering Professors Council, to present the outcome of our report. The broad thrust of the report has been welcomed by engineering professors, learned societies, trade bodies and individual companies. Substantial parts of it have been welcomed by the Government. My plea is for us all to work together to deliver on our stated commitments—I refer once again to the comments of the party leaders in the debate on the Gracious Speech. It is up to us to do it, and we have the tools. Let us now get on with it.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Walker, and to speak in this important and timely debate.

Why is a debate on educating tomorrow’s engineers important, and worthy of a report by the Select Committee on Science and Technology? There is no doubt that the country faces huge challenges. None is greater than the economic challenge; and our future is by no means certain, so we need to carve out a new future for our nation—one that is not based just on financial and other service-based industries, which perhaps we have come to rely on too much. They are valuable industries, but we need to rebalance our economy.

We need also to recognise that we will not return to the heavy metal-bashing industries of the past and that we need to play to our strengths; perhaps we had forgotten what they were. For too long, we abandoned—or at the very least undervalued—our skilled industrial and engineering heritage, in favour of other sectors. The time has come for that to change, and I hope that the report will instigate and support that change.

What lies behind the Government’s reforms in education must be widely and generally welcomed. There is a deep-seated belief that we need to give young people the best possible opportunities and skills to enable them to get access to the jobs that will exist in future. Some of the reforms that we considered will achieve that. We may collectively have underestimated the value of engineering, but let us not undersell ourselves.

As the Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), said, engineering and manufacturing are still hugely important to the country. They are also important to me personally in my constituency. The UK is home to more than 500,000 engineering companies, employing, as we heard, 5.4 million people, of whom 2.3 million would consider themselves to be skilled engineers. That accounts for 8% of the work force. As we heard, it accounts for one fifth of GDP and half of all our exports, and turns over £1.15 trillion. We should not underestimate the importance of the sector, but we sometimes do, and we therefore seem to have created an ever-widening skills gap, which has consequences for the economy and for the rebalancing of our national wealth.

I am the co-chairman of the parliamentary ICT forum, and one of the things that companies always tell us is that the No. 1 thing they look for when considering investing in any country is not tax or any such factor but whether the skills that they need are available where they are thinking of locating a factory or development lab. The report ties into that.

My hon. Friend is right. Skills are a major factor when people are deciding where to invest. Something that I found surprising, or perhaps even shocking, was that when the CBI conducted a survey of companies, it found that 42%, across all sectors, reported a skills gap when recruiting. That skills gap is as true in my local context as it is nationally.

South Basildon and East Thurrock has a long and rich industrial heritage, and I shall, if I may, blow my constituency’s trumpet for a moment. For example, one in 10 of the world’s large tractors are built in Basildon, at Case New Holland, generating £7 billion of exports. The personal IED-blockers that our servicemen wear in Afghanistan are built, designed and programmed in Basildon by Selex. Gardner Aerospace is a medium-sized engineering firm, employing more than 200 staff in my constituency. It is a tier 1 supplier to Airbus—there is not an Airbus A380 that flies without a part made in Basildon—and it competes with firms in cheaper-cost-base countries such as India and China, and why is it able to compete? Because of its quality and because it delivers on time.

Given the excellence of the Airbus-producing manufacturer in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, has that impacted at all on his ideas about the virtue or otherwise of the European single market?

That is probably a debate for another day. There is no doubt, when we export 50% of our goods to Europe, that it is an important customer of ours, and I would not want to do anything to undermine that, but what does undermine that company’s ability to prosper and grow is the lack of skilled engineers in the wider work force. When I recently visited the company, I was told that although it is managing to recruit apprentices to train up to support its current work base, if it were to be offered a new large contract, it could not go out into the economy and recruit enough engineers to expand, even though we can compete with low-cost-base countries. That demonstrates why it is so important that we bridge that skills gap.

While I am blowing my own constituency’s trumpet, let me say that it is also home to Ford’s research and development facility at Dunton. The facility employs some 4,000 designers, engineers and technicians. For these companies to prosper, we need to bridge that skills gap, so what can be done?

First, we need to change our attitudes towards engineering as a career. We all need to work harder at promoting engineering as the rewarding, well-compensated profession that it is. It is a profession that shapes the world that we live in, and too many people do not understand that. Certainly, too many young people do not understand it. They are not aware of the role of engineering—how it shapes the world that they touch and experience every day. Even when they understand that and have a positive attitude towards it, that does not necessarily translate into wider participation, so we must have a change. We must find a way to engage with young people and show them that they have a role to play in engineering. That starts in schools, but there are concerns, as we have heard, that some of the changes that have been made to our education system will not necessarily support that.

There are concerns that the curriculum changes will do little to inspire people to take up STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and maths. There is concern that with design and technology no longer being compulsory, people will not be able to take their enthusiasm for that subject further. I look forward to being corrected if that is not the case. One of the issues that I would like my hon. Friend the Minister to address particularly is whether the EBacc is likely to encourage schools to concentrate on the five core subjects, rather than offering a broader education that might include exposure to engineering. Concern is also expressed that the new TechBacc does not receive the same recognition as the EBacc. Again, if that could be addressed, I would be most grateful.

There are concerns, as we heard from the Chairman of the Select Committee, that the changes to and perceived downgrading of the engineering diploma could send the wrong message. I am sure that that is not the Government’s aim. As I said at the beginning of my speech, I believe that the Government’s changes to education are designed to give people all the skills that they need to make the most of the potential that they have.

There are plenty of positives, and I will try to touch on them, although I do not want to detain hon. Members too long. One of the things that I welcome most is the university technical colleges—I would certainly welcome one in my constituency. They are a fantastic way of giving young people skills and inspiring them into potentially interesting and well-rewarded careers. My only concern about the university technical college programme is that not enough people will have access to it. I think that they are fantastic and would support them wholeheartedly. I would love to see an engineering and logistics university technical college in Basildon.

I am very pleased that, through an initiative funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Government are creating a network of more than 25,000 STEM professionals and academics who can go into schools to support STEM education and promote STEM careers. I understand that the Government are also part-funding STEM clubs. The hope is that 80% of secondary schools will have one of those clubs by 2015. I have seen how some of the clubs work in my own constituency when they are supported by industry as well. They are fantastic; they really do get people excited.

Both the private sector and the voluntary sector have a role to play, as I have seen locally. The power generation company npower runs programmes that involve people going out into schools and showing young people the practical application of engineering. Network Rail produces support material. JCB, as we have heard, sponsors a UTC. Businesses such as Ford and Selex in my constituency support the engineering and STEM clubs. There are initiatives such as “We Made It!” and Primary Engineer, which is fantastic, because we cannot start encouraging people to be interested in engineering young enough. Primary Engineer is a project that works with key stage 1 and key stage 2 pupils, getting them to design vehicles that they can then test in a competition. It allows them to look at the engineering solution to certain problems. It is fantastic to see in practice.

I add to the hon. Gentleman’s list the Rolls-Royce awards. This year’s winner is a primary school from Belfast. It is an inspiring project that the youngsters and teachers have been engaged in, but the key there was the partnership between the company and the school to bring the technical expertise that was outside the school into the classroom.

Absolutely, and that leads me to my next point beautifully. All those things are brilliant, and to see them in action is fantastic. My concern is that what is happening is not systematic enough. We are not getting it into every school, and not every pupil or student has access to it. One of the recommendations in the Select Committee report—I was delighted that the Government accepted it without amendment—was that all the learned societies, professional engineering institutions and trade bodies should oblige their members to go into schools, in a systematic way, to promote engineering and technology. Even if it was just for one day a year, if each of those engineers could go into schools across the whole school body, it could have a significant impact.

As a result of some of the initiatives, we are beginning to see an improvement in the uptake of engineering and particularly in the number of engineering apprentices and apprenticeships in our economy. Today, just before I came here, I had some very good news. DP World, which is constructing the London Gateway container port down at Shell Haven in my constituency, will on Monday announce the creation of six new engineering apprenticeships to support the engineering activity that takes place on that site. To see £1.5 billion invested in south Essex is great, but the engineering feat—the reclamation of the land and then the handling of millions of containers—is a fantastic sight and something that will, we hope, excite those six potential engineers.

In conclusion, there are some fantastic organisations and companies throughout our country doing some great things to inspire the next generation of engineers, but we must do more. We face a lack of skills and a shortage of aspiration to give people those skills, but those problems are not insurmountable. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that

“engineers are the real revolutionaries, the ones who take society forward, who create the technologies and the structures which carry us into new worlds.”

Although progress is being made and the general thrust of what the Government are trying to achieve is welcome, we must do all that we can to ensure that engineers can continue to take our society forward and continue to forge a future that will meet our increasingly complex needs. I hope that the Government will revisit our report, take it in the spirit in which it is meant and use it to achieve our shared and combined goal of creating a broader uptake of engineering across our whole society.

Order. Depending on the length of the next speech, we will start the winding-up speeches at 4 pm ideally. If the Front Benchers could leave two minutes for the Committee Chair at the end—we are due to finish at 4.30 pm—that would be well received by all, I am sure.

I am most grateful, Mr Walker; I shall try not to take up all that time, generous though the allocation is. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), the Chair of the Committee, on the excellent way he introduced his report and on his earlier speech, and my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) on what he said. I agree with everything they have said, which makes this a consensual, but none the less important debate.

I am most grateful to the Chair of the Committee for what he said about my speech last week in the Queen’s Speech debate. I echo what he said about the welcome response from the Leader of the Opposition, declaring cross-party support for efforts to encourage the status of engineering in our society and, in particular, women’s role in engineering. My speech last week had one great problem; it was overshadowed by the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. I have bad news for the Chair of the Committee today; this debate will also not get the attention it deserves, because it is being overshadowed by the announcement today of David Beckham’s retirement from football. My serious point is, would it not be great if the retirement of a major engineering figure attracted even a fraction of the attention that the retirement of a major footballer does? As my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock said, it is engineers who change the world. Footballers entertain us marvellously and they are great people—probably overpaid, but great none the less—but engineers make the world a better place to live in. Their role is important to society. I have just come back from Jordan, where I talked to Jordanian parliamentarians about democracy. Most of the Jordanian Members of Parliament I met, rejoiced in the title “engineer” before their name. If only we could honour engineering as they do in other societies around the world, it would be better for all of us.

I declare a non-interest, in that the excellent Georgie Luff—who gave evidence to the Committee, is reported in the minutes of the Committee and referred to in the report itself—is, as far as I know, no relation. I wish she were. She is an outstanding young lady and clearly did a great service to women and engineering in her evidence to the Committee. I am a non-executive director of a small advanced manufacturing business, where I am seeing for myself firsthand the very real problems facing engineering companies. Skills shortages in engineering are real and present.

During my chairmanship of the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills in the previous Parliament, many of the reports we produced referred to the skills shortage. I became more and more concerned about it, and the inadequate careers advice in schools. As a Defence Minister, I saw for myself just how pressing the shortage was. I went to TRaC Global, a test and evaluation company, and opened its Dorset facility. I was told, “Minister, we’ve given up looking for engineers from British universities. It is not worth our while, because they aren’t there. We’re recruiting from Spain and Portugal.” That was my moment of revelation. It is all right for a major British engineering company in the civil sector to recruit overseas—it is a massive wasted opportunity for British young people that they are not being employed to work in those engineering companies and the jobs are going to foreigners instead—but we cannot do that in the defence sector, because we need UK eyes only on high security matters. As I said in my speech last week, when I proposed the Loyal Address, the shortage of engineering skills in this country

“is one of the greatest avoidable threats to…prosperity and security.”—[Official Report, 8 May 2013; Vol. 563, c. 7.]

I stand by those words.

Locally, the success of engineering companies can be a problem for Members of Parliament. In my part of the world, Jaguar Land Rover is flourishing—sucking up all the design engineers it can find, not only in the west midlands, but further afield. The result is that many engineering companies in my constituency find it more and more difficult to recruit engineers due to the desperate shortage of engineering skills. The shortage is made infinitely worse by the demographic of the engineering profession. Many people will retire in the next 10 years, so we will have to recruit a phenomenal number just to keep pace and fill the gaps.

I gave the Chair of the Committee eight out of 10 for the report. That was a bit churlish of me, so I apologise. It was mainly because he did not draw its scope quite wide enough. It was focused, quite reasonably, on the 14 to 19 age range. He helpfully said in response to my intervention that key stage 2 and, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock said, key stage 1 matter hugely as well, and I agree. If we are talking about inspiring the next generation of engineers, as the report does in chapter 4, starting young is important.

Although the report says all the right things about women in engineering, it does not identify specific steps that could be implemented to enhance their participation rate. In France, the engineering participation rate for women is about 21% or 22%; here, the estimates differ, but 10% to 12% is a good guess—half the French rate. The French are worried that their rate is too low, and yet we have the lowest rate in the European Union. We are 27th out of 27 and will be 28th out of 28 when Croatia joins. It is a scandal in its own terms, but it is also a missed opportunity for engineering. Modern engineering and its problem-solving nature lends itself more and more to the skills sets that females bring to the profession. We desperately need women to be engaged in engineering, and it is a great shame that we have not yet succeeded in boosting their numbers.

Another important thing that the Committee’s report refers to—although perhaps not quite enough—is how to engage business in schools. There is a lot about taking teachers out and helping them to understand business, but how do we help businesses to engage more in schools? What upsets me so much is we are living in a society with a real, acute youth unemployment problem—not only in this country, but around the world—and employers are crying out for skill sets that are not available in the labour force. It cannot be beyond the wit of man to marry up those problems; if we produce more engineers, we address the problem of youth unemployment, at least in part, and solve the problems facing our economy and security.

Things are happening, which the Government’s response to the Committee’s excellent report mentions. Paragraph 5 gives statistics that are encouraging in many senses:

“A-level physics entries have risen from 25,620 in 2009 to 30,750 in 2012.”

That is a welcome, good increase—constructive and positive—but it is nowhere near enough. A problem in the debate is that education gets boring so quickly. It becomes ridden with cliché and jargon, complex constructs and complex bureaucracies, but there is one thing at the bottom of it: we must inspire more young people, particularly girls, to want to be engineers—that is the essence of it. The Government understand that, as does the Minister and the Under-Secretary of State for Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), who responded to the previous debate. The skills shortage is a matter of the utmost urgency.

I do not think “complacency” can be used to describe the Government’s response; I caution against that. The issue is pressing and urgent and must fundamentally be addressed. The Government are right to say that the figures are improving, but the figures are not better enough and they are not improving fast enough. They are not as high as they were in the 1980s, for heaven’s sake! The scandal of girls’ participation is a real problem. The Institute of Physics produced a marvellous report, “It’s Different for Girls”, on participation rates for women in engineering, and physics in particular. One statistic in the report horrifies me more than any other: 49% of maintained co-educational schools sent no girls on to take A-level physics in 2011. In half of all maintained co-educational schools, no girls do A-level physics as a result of their education up to A-level. We simply must change that. Physics is, I think, the fourth most popular choice for boys, but the 14th for girls. The figures are well down and there is no reason for that whatsoever.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one way to change that shocking statistic would be for those women who had studied physics—STEM subjects —to come into schools to inspire other women to think about taking such subjects further than GCSE and to provide positive role models?

Many young women are doing that most magnificently. ScienceGrrl is a marvellous organisation—I cannot believe how many R’s there are in girl now. They are a fantastic bunch of young women trying to inspire the next generation of female engineers and scientists. I use the word “engineer”, but I am not sure what it means; I think it is really applied science.

For the benefit of Hansard, girl is spelled G-R-R-L and such is the importance of the subject, they are tweeting the debate.

I do not think that I am allowed to recognise the Gallery, Mr Walker, but I am not surprised. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for correcting the number of R’s. I have their literature in my hand. That exchange has put me off my stride.

Addressing the issue is of huge importance. It is valuable for young people to go back to school to show secondary school pupils doing GCSEs and A-levels what they can do with those qualifications. The problem begins at key stage 2, because many of the role modals available, for girls in particular, in primary schools are female arts graduates. That is not a criticism of them at all, but they do not understand engineering, nor should they be expected to. The key is to get businesses into schools. We cannot expect teachers to correct every problem in our society—it would be unreasonable to do so—so let us get businesses into schools. That is why I particularly welcome what the Minister has done on the design and technology curriculum, and I know that she will be glad that I said that.

Design and technology is compulsory at key stages 1, 2 and 3 and an option at key stage 4. I am happy with that arrangement, particularly now that the curriculum has been so dramatically improved as a result of her interventions, for which I am grateful. As I said to her when we met to discuss it a couple of weeks ago, the curriculum now provides an opportunity to get businesses into schools to support it in a way that helps teachers and does the inspiration job that my hon. Friend and the Chairman of the Committee spoke so powerfully about.

The chief executive officers of the major companies are waiting for this and want it to happen, but as has been said, too much is happening. There are too many initiatives at present. It is a fantastically complex world out there. I hope that the new design and technology curriculum can act as a focus to inspire the institutions, major companies and trade associations to bring the initiatives together in a single place, probably under EngineeringUK’s “Tomorrow’s Engineers” banner, another first-rate initiative. That would bring greater coherence to the massive picture of opportunities out there to inspire young people.

What worries me is that very few of those initiatives are actually reaching my constituency. Primary Engineer, about which my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock spoke so well, is an outstanding institution. Why are the Scots using it so intensely and the English not? The Scots are a great engineering nation, but its penetration into Scotland is much greater than into England. I hope that that can be corrected as well.

I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to a Committee recommendation, to which the Government responded in paragraph 52, on the role of institutions. To become chartered engineers, people must demonstrate a certain commitment to the wider community, and one way of doing so is to demonstrate that they have gone into schools and helped inspire and educate a new generation of engineers. That could be made more specific in the regulations on chartered engineer status. If the Government are minded to take forward the discussion on institutions, that is a route that I particularly recommend.

I am in danger of becoming bored by my own message because I am stating it so often, but it is exceptionally important. I am told by my old mentor Lord Walker, “It’s only when you’re sick and tired of your own message that you’re probably just beginning to communicate it to the outside world.” I say to my hon. Friend the Minister: believe in this. It matters a great deal. She should take the wise words of the Select Committee Chairman and the report seriously, and understand that if she can turn around the issue and inspire another 10% of women to participate in engineering, doubling the figure, she will do a great thing for the cause of her gender, for the economy and for the security of the nation.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker, and to follow the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), who has produced another compelling and interesting speech. I begin to think that he is a renaissance man, given his involvement also in the upcoming commemorations of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015.

The Opposition welcome the Science and Technology Committee’s report. It is an important intervention on a question vital to rebalancing our economy and improving our competitiveness and, as we have just heard, for reasons of national security. “How do we educate tomorrow’s engineers?” is our collective exam question. The Opposition also welcome the Government’s response to the report, now that it has finally arrived.

I follow the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), serving as a constituency Member of Parliament, in thinking of the excellent traditions of engineering that we have in Stoke-on-Trent. I am thinking particularly of Goodwin International, a company now in its 10th generation of family ownership, which produces precision steel engineering for nuclear power stations in China, as well as for bridges around the world. Olympus Engineering is another fine business in my constituency.

As the report and many colleagues have noted, the UK engineering sector comprises more than 500,000 companies, employing 5.4 million people and generating one fifth of our GDP and half our exports. In 2010, it generated a £1.15 trillion turnover. By any measure, that is a profound contribution to our economic well-being. We all want to move wealth across the country away from London and the south-east to ensure greater equity in our constituencies. The sector is a profound part of our economy.

Although I would be happy, indeed delighted, to wax lyrical about the wonders of Richard Arkwright, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Thomas Telford and Stoke-on-Trent’s own Reginald Mitchell, designer of the Spitfire, at the moment we should think of the future and the modern global race for competitiveness. We are not where we need to be on skills, as the recent global survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers outlined. That survey of more than 1,300 chief executive officers revealed that UK business leaders are more concerned about the availability of key skills than any of their western European counterparts, rating the issue as the greatest threat to their businesses’ growth. We have heard evidence of that in the debate. Three out of four chief executives said that creating and encouraging a skilled work force should be the Government’s highest priority for business in the year ahead.

Nowhere is the struggle for skills more obvious than in engineering. As the Committee report outlines, by 2020, we will need 820,000 science, engineering and technology professionals, 80% of whom will be required in engineering. One need only look at the Indian institutes of technology or what is going on in China to realise that the rest of the world is not going to wait around for us to catch up.

The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful point, with which I am sure we all agree. Does he therefore fully accept that we are competing on a global stage and that we are in a global race? We owe it to our young people to give them all the skills that they need to compete in that global race.

I absolutely agree. The challenge is how to do so, and politics is the issue. We must push ourselves up the quality supply chain if we are to earn our money in the world. It is therefore depressing to read in the report that 31% of high-tech manufacturing firms had recruited people from outside the UK owing to a lack of suitably qualified people from within the UK. It is both a business and a national security question.

One area in which we simply must improve, as the Chair of the Select Committee and the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire suggested, is redressing the gender balance and the under-representation of women across the engineering sector. New research by EngineeringUK reveals that many girls rule out careers in science and engineering by the time they are only 14 years old. The UK has the lowest number of women scientists and engineers of all EU countries, fewer than 9% of girls opt for physics at GCSE level and 25% of schoolgirls think that science careers are most suited to boys. I remember hearing powerful evidence from the chief executive of Brompton Bicycle about looking for a female design engineer; candidates simply did not come forward. He wanted a female engineer precisely for a different way of thinking and problem solving, and for the new capacities that she could bring into his company.

Of all OECD countries, we currently languish at 21st for intermediate technical skills. I thought that at this stage I would introduce some partisan rancour. One would think that the Government would be doing all that they could to promote engineering and science and to develop a rigorous approach to vocational education and technical skills. We could have had a modern skills settlement in the Gracious Speech. That would have been far more useful to British competitiveness than grandstanding on a European referendum.

Although I am happy, indeed delighted, to pay tribute to the Minister’s excellent work on promoting mathematics in schools and encouraging greater female take-up of mathematics, sadly, the Government have not fulfilled the other side of the equation. Instead, they have devalued apprenticeships, undermined careers guidance by abandoning the statutory duty to provide work experience and downgraded a successful qualification in the engineering diploma. From the Committee’s evidence, it seems difficult to substantiate the Government’s claim in their response that they considered the views of the engineering sector carefully when downgrading the diploma in the infamous paragraph 17.

Like the Chair of the Select Committee, I also look forward to seeing those responses, because the evidence is unequivocal. National Grid suggests that downgrading the diploma will make it a less attractive option to schools. Meanwhile, the Engineering Employers Federation stated that the downgrading of diplomas has not sent out the signal to employers and young people that the Government are serious about the status and value of vocational education. I could go on.

In light of that damning verdict from the sector’s leading employers’ federation, will the Minister enlighten us as to how exactly she considered carefully the engineering sector’s views on the process of the downgrade? The Opposition agree with the EEF’s verdict and support the Committee’s position that the downgrading of the diploma represents a poor message about how much the Government value engineering education. It is all very well for the Government to suggest that they are now consulting on a replacement, but it is difficult to find fault with the Committee’s simple argument that any new plans could have been developed before the decision to downgrade. Indeed, that is arguably representative of elements of the Government’s education agenda.

We all support a rigorous grounding in core subjects, and it would be impossible not to welcome, along with other hon. Members, the increasing number of pupils studying triple science and A-level mathematics, as the Government outlined in their response. The point about the EBacc, however, is not that such core subjects are not an important part of a well-rounded education for all—of course they are. The point is in the narrowness, both the incentive it provides to schools to narrow an academic offer and, more importantly, the numbers of students it affects. As the Chair of the Select Committee pointed out, that can often lead to perverse outcomes.

A case in point is design and technology. Manufacturers and engineers have made it clear that they are troubled by its removal from key stage 4 as a compulsory subject.

As I say, manufacturers and engineers would like as much take-up of it at key stage 4 as possible. It is undoubtedly an important subject for training and educating the next generation of engineers. There is a need, however, to look again at the content of the proposed curriculum. I am surprised by some comments made by Government Members about the content, because the CBI’s director for employment and skills has said:

“The proposed design and technology curriculum is out of step with the needs of a modern economy. It lacks academic and technical rigour, as well as clear links to the realities of the workplace… The proposals…risk reinforcing existing prejudices about applied subjects being second-rate.”

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman, particularly as he is being gracious about my speech. That was what the CBI said, but I think the hon. Gentleman will find that the new draft of the D and T curriculum, on which I have worked closely with the Minister, is a great improvement on that. The whole sector, including the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Design and Technology Association and the CBI, will be well pleased with the draft that will now be part of the curriculum.

I would love to stand corrected. If the CBI and other members of the engineering community are delighted with the new curriculum—

If they are less unhappy with the new curriculum, I look forward to reading their comments in due course.

What we need is the rigour not just of the past but of the future. Of course, the Government have belatedly announced their proposals for a technical baccalaureate, and that is a welcome change of tone. When the Labour party announced its plans for a TechBacc, the Government dismissed our proposed gold-standard vocational qualification as something that would

“leave millions of state school pupils unemployable.”

If that is not talking down vocational education, I do not know what is.

Labour’s technical baccalaureate would have a work experience requirement, and businesses told Labour’s skills task force that such a requirement is crucial. We would also place control over accrediting courses for the TechBacc qualification in the hands of business. Rolls-Royce or Jaguar Land Rover, for example, which, as has been mentioned, are going to transform the skills training economy in the west midlands with the i54 development, could be involved in designing the content of engineering education. That is in contrast to the Government’s vision for the TechBacc as an institutional performance measure—a wrap-up performance measure— rather than as a gold-standard qualification.

Mr Walker, sadly you were not here, but in the previous debate we discussed the Education Committee’s seventh report. I endorse the concerns expressed in this report, which echo those of that report, that the Government have removed the statutory duty for work experience. In the public consultation to Alison Wolf’s excellent report, 89% of respondents did not believe that the duty should be removed, and with employers routinely complaining, as we have heard this afternoon, about the lack of workplace knowledge and the arguably poor employability of many young people, the Government must consider whether scrapping work experience is a good idea.

The hon. Gentleman is right on one level. Work experience, when done well, can provide a really good opportunity to get an insight into either a sector of our economy or the world of work. Too often, however, work experience for 14 to 16-year-olds is not rewarding at all and can put people off work. Schools often scratch around trying to find enough employers to provide what is, basically, a sitting service for two weeks at the end of year 10 and the start of year 11. It has to be valued and it has to be good, and sometimes that is not possible at 14 to 16. That is why I think that the emphasis on later, and quality, work experience is much more valuable.

Of course the hon. Gentleman is right that bad work experience serves no purpose. The onus is clearly on the responsibility to deliver an effective work placement. Once careers guidance is downgraded—as we have discussed—our worry is whether the capacity to offer rewarding work experience and work placements will be there in schools. We will see how this rolls itself out, but with careers, work experience and work placements there is a genuine concern that the Government’s emphasis and attention are not where they could be, precisely at the time when so many young people face the real possibility of unemployment.

Some points in the Government’s response are welcome. Clearly, the new accountability proposals are a small step in the direction of correcting the narrow focus of the EBacc as the sole performance measure. The Opposition also welcome the progress made on university technical colleges, which play a small but vital role in delivering engineering excellence. We have heard about the work of Sir Anthony Bamford and JCB but, as the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) suggested, they are not the universal answer, and we must ensure that science and technology is delivered across mainstream schooling.

It is clear that although both sides of the House may share a similar ambition for a dynamic engineering sector at the heart of a rebalanced economy, the Opposition believe that we have a cast-iron commitment to creating the parity that is needed between academic and high quality vocational education routes, so as to educate the next generation of engineers.

It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I thank the members of the Select Committee for their comprehensive report. We have had very interesting speeches from the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), and my hon. Friends the Members for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley), for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) and for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), and I also thank the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), for some elements of his speech.

I am pleased that we all agree that scientific, engineering and technological innovation has a critical role to play in the future of the UK economy. We all know that we are in a global race. We need a population that is at least as mathematically skilled and technologically literate as those of China, Singapore, Brazil and all the other emerging countries, and we have a considerable way to go to achieve that. At the moment, we have the smallest proportion of 16 to 18 year-olds studying mathematics in the OECD.

In my constituency, I know the vital role that engineering plays from the apprentices at RAF Marham, who will shortly be working on the new Lightning II joint strike fighter, the most advanced fighter jet in the world, and from G’s Growers in the food and farming industry, who do laser levelling of the land. That shows that high-tech engineering applications apply across many different industries. One thing we are doing in the new design and technology curriculum is widening the industrial focus, to ensure that schools are able to work with local industries that offer those types of skills. The Government are committed to increasing the number of young people studying STEM subjects.

I agree with the comments made today about getting the message across on a broad level. I have held a number of round tables recently with people from the engineering sector, about how we need to get the message across broadly to parents, as well as to teachers and the wider community, about the fulfilment and the economic value of engineering. We know that people with degrees in subjects such as maths and engineering are some of the most highly paid and sought after, and we need to get that message through from a very early age. As the world develops, there is an increasing return to skills. The correlation between our PISA—programme for international student assessment—results and economic growth has doubled over the past 30 years. There has been a 30% growth in managerial, technical and professional jobs, and we need a skilled populace able to take up those roles.

The remit of the report is 14-19 education, but the building blocks at primary school are so critical that we cannot not mention them. Importantly, we are reviewing our primary mathematics curriculum, so that it focuses much more on core arithmetic skills. It will ensure that children have their times tables, which are the basis of things such as ratio and proportion that are so important in solving multi-step problems in subjects such as engineering. We are also developing a new computing curriculum that will start in primary school. Children will learn not just to use IT programmes, but to programme things such as Scratch and Raspberry Pi from an early age. That will open their eyes, at an early age, to the opportunities that engineering brings.

I mentioned the broadening of the design and technology curriculum. We want primary schools to open children’s eyes to industries and things available for them to do in the local area, which is important for getting girls involved. There has been a lot of media commentary recently about the segregation of girls’ and boys’ toys, such as chemistry sets. As parents, we have to stand up and be counted on such issues. I have two daughters. If we allow the mindset to develop at that age that particular things, such as chemistry and physics, are boys’ things, it has a damaging effect later.

There is a strong role for design and technology, coupled with good mathematics and good computing teaching in primary school, in that it is a universal skill that is useful not only for engineering, which is of course important, but for the quantitative skills that we will need much more in subjects such as history than we did in the past. It is something that everybody has to know and should focus on.

On the design and technology curriculum, we have been working with engineering and other sectors to ensure that it is broad and high level, and that it encourages students to apply the learning they receive in mathematics and sciences. In the maths and science curriculum, we are reforming GCSEs with questions that are more open ended and have a focus that is more on problem solving, modelling and practical application, so that there is not a divide between theory and practice, but more of a continuum between subjects.

People will then understand when they study trigonometry that it is very useful for an engineering apprenticeship. Some young engineering apprentices in my constituency told me, “We had no idea that the trigonometry we used at school would actually be useful in this job, and now we’re really excited about it.” Would it not be great if, when trigonometry is first taught, the teacher brings up such applications, so that students know that they will be useful for their future careers?

The Minister is making an excellent point. Too often in education, and not just in science and technology subjects, the application for later in life is lost. Perhaps we might broaden that idea to ensure that there is always some practical example why children, from a very early age, are learning something. When I go into schools, children often have no idea why they are there: it is just somewhere they go during the day. Let us explain why education is important to them and how it will help them in later life.

I completely agree. One organisation I have talked to is PFEG—the Personal Finance Education Group—which is very supportive of the financial education programme in schools that we have added to the national curriculum. It is keen to help communicate with primary school children about which careers are likely to be available in the future, and which will have the financial rewards to support them and their families when they grow up.

There would thus be an early understanding of the value of continuing to study some of the subjects in which it may take a while for the penny to drop—we have all had moments of struggling through sums and finally getting it—and children could be encouraged by being told, “This is what you can do. This is the kind of thing you could be.” The Under-Secretary of State for Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) said that he wanted to be an astronaut, which is an aspirational career—I do not think you were in the Chamber, Mr Walker—but he settled for being an Under-Secretary, which I am sure we agree is an equivalent profession. Perhaps not.

We are making good progress on A-levels. The number of pupils taking A-level maths rose by 51% between 2005 and 2010. As the Committee commented, however, that is simply not enough, given that we are 200,000 mathematicians short at university and when many of those shortages are in engineering courses. We therefore need to do more to get students to do A-level maths and physics. Our stimulating physics network is particularly focused on getting girls to do physics at GCSE and A-level, which is part of our programme.

One reason why we have had such a low uptake in maths from 16 to 18, which is a key basis for engineering, is that we have not had the mid-level qualification that many other countries have. It has been all or nothing: children do the full A-level or nothing. We are creating a number of core maths qualifications, such as maths in education and industry, and we are working with Professor Tim Gowers of Cambridge university on a problem-solving qualification. We are also considering a probability and statistics qualification similar to the one offered in New Zealand, which succeeded in increasing take-up.

The core maths qualification will be part of the technical baccalaureate, and we hope that it will be part of academic programmes of study. I hope that addresses the Select Committee Chair’s aspiration to create more of a common core that all students take from 16 to 18. Clearly, students will also be able to take A-level maths or further maths, but let us make sure that they continue with the core study that is so important to whatever kind of career they go into later.

I was asked whether the technical baccalaureate is equivalent to the EBacc. No, it is not, because it is a 16-to-18 qualification, while the EBacc is a 14-to-16 qualification. The technical baccalaureate is a high-level vocational qualification that is aspirational—it includes level 3 maths—and it is also an applied qualification. It will be recorded in league tables alongside A-level, rather than at the 14-to-16 level. That is in line with Alison Wolf’s report on vocational education, which recommended that young people follow a general education curriculum until the end of key stage 4, with vocational specialist options postponed until after that stage, and explains why we have the EBacc, which is a core qualification and represents only 60% or 70% of the curriculum, so there is still space for students to study additional subjects. That is the expectation to 16, and the technical baccalaureate, the academic alternative or an apprenticeship follows from age 16 to 18.

In terms of the direction of travel in UTCs and the emerging 14-to-19 space, with young people beginning to think about different paths at 14, what is the Government’s belief in the UTC model, in relation to the Wolf report, in respect of total academic qualifications to 16 relative to beginning different pathways from 14?

As I said, we think that students should do a common core until 16, and even continue to do so until 18 on the critical subjects, which are maths and written communication, for example through an extended project qualification. The core is there, following the best traditions of countries such as Germany, which has upgraded its qualifications so that all students do a strong academic core until they are 16. That is the intention behind the new progress 8 accountability measure, which includes English, maths, three EBacc subjects and three additional subjects, so providing a common academic core for all students, plus three additional subjects.

May I plead with the Minister to alter a sentence she has just delivered? When she was describing the move from the post-16 technical baccalaureate, she said “or the academic alternative”. No, it should not be “the academic alternative”. It may be an arts or social science alternative, but she is using language that reinforces the brick wall that I tried to break down.

Yes, I agree to correct that. I, too, want to break down that brick wall, because we will have students doing core maths plus physics and chemistry, as well as core maths plus history and geography or core maths plus an applied occupational qualification. The key is that those qualifications are valued by employers or by universities as leading to progress, which is what we should be looking at. I am pointing out that the fact that part of it is the same maths qualification shows that there is a shared core between the A-level side, to put it that way, and the occupational side.

I think I have covered the point about the accountability tables, and I want to address the issue of the engineering diploma. I explained the philosophy that followed the Wolf review—having a common core until 16, and reviewing the league tables in that light. It is wrong to see the change in the GCSE equivalents of the engineering diploma as downgrading the qualification. We have approved level 2 principal learning in engineering for inclusion in the 2015 key stage 4 performance tables. In addition, three new engineering qualifications for 14 to 16-year-olds, which are being developed by the Royal Academy of Engineering and an awarding organisation, are due to be submitted to Ofqual this summer for accreditation.

It is important that we have a consistent message in our 14-to-16 and 16-to-18 programmes about the status of qualifications in our league table. The progress 8 accountability measure really shows the Government’s intention, which is that students of those ages should be studying core subjects such as sciences, which are vital for engineering. In particular, we need more students studying physics to do engineering, but there is space reserved in the accountability measure for subjects such as design and technology and art.

Many colleagues mentioned university technical colleges, which provide an opportunity for young people to enter the engineering profession. In the 2011 Budget, the Government made a commitment to deliver at least 24 UTCs by 2014, and we are set to exceed that commitment: five UTCs are already open and 40 are in the pre-opening phase, of which 12 are due to open in September 2013, and a further 28 in 2014 and 2015. Those UTCs will together allow around 27,500 students to train as the engineers, scientists and technicians of the future, which is transformative.

When good schools open in a local area, it has a ripple effect on other institutions. For example, the maths free schools, which will be run by universities, will specialise in maths, further maths and sciences for students looking to go to university to study those subjects. Those schools were announced in the 2011 autumn statement and are based on a model from schools already operating in Russia and China. Two have already been approved and are due to open in 2014 at King’s college London, and Exeter. We are in discussion with other universities about the development of more of these maths schools. As they will have university-style tuition—much more seminar style—in maths and science, they will also be able to offer teaching support to other schools in their local area.

An underlying issue in the whole debate is that we need to increase teacher supply in the critical subjects. Maths has the greatest teacher shortage, but physics also has quite a large shortage. The Government are offering bursaries in those subjects. Improving the professional development of teachers in those subjects so that they are inspiring is important in encouraging the next generation. Who do children listen most to? They listen to their parents and their peers, but they also listen to their teachers, and a teacher can make a real difference. Having exemplar schools, whether they are UTCs or maths free schools, will help to improve the quality of provision.

Finally, I want to look at the role of industry in promoting STEM education and engineering. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire pointed out, there are keen institutions that want to get involved in helping schools. However, it does not always happen at local level, and sometimes the coverage can be patchy. As we have cross-party consensus on the issue, I am keen that we work together to promote subjects such as engineering, physics and mathematics and their value to the country and to the individual. Too often, when we wake up in the morning and listen to the radio we hear such negative messages.

I again pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the way she has engaged with the design and technology curriculum. Business engagement is crucial. She probably cannot prejudge it, but is she aware of how the Perkins review, which is being conducted by the chief scientist at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, will address such issues? It is a cross-departmental matter, not just for her Department.

I have met the Government’s chief scientist on precisely that issue. We need role models and we need to be able to communicate clearly about the key messages. The social value of engineering is very important. Countries such as Malaysia and India have been successful in recruiting female engineers. We should look not just at Europe but across the world to understand why engineering is seen as an aspirational career. It is clear that we need a concerted campaign and a concerted effort to address the whole issue. Despite the fact that we all know there is a desperate shortage of engineers, I am concerned that the message has not gone through to schools, and students are studying subjects that will not achieve those aspirations either for them or for the economy they are about to enter.

I thank hon. Members for taking part in this interesting debate in which some new ideas have emerged. I hope that we can work together with the Committee to take some of those ideas forward, and also with the Opposition because there is a degree of cross-party consensus. I am delighted to have taken part in the debate.

Thank you, Mr Walker. I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to this important debate. It is great to see that there is a high degree of cross-party consensus on the matter, and I certainly concur with the Minister’s closing remark that we should carry on working with her Department to ensure that we drive forward some of the areas of strong agreement. It is hugely important that we try to use some of the time to iron out our differences. I certainly want to see the evidence that supports paragraph 27 in the Government’s response, in relation to work experience. The paragraph starts, “We do not believe”. It is not belief I want but facts. As the Minister has appeared before our Committee, she knows that we work hard to ensure that our reports are evidence based. We believe that better policy comes from working in that way.

Some organisations working in the field are doing a fantastic job. Mention has been made of STEM ambassadors, who are doing a great job. ScienceGrrl was mentioned by the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff). He will be interested to know that a tweet I have just read says, “We love Peter Luff even more now.” Important work is going on in this space, and there is an extraordinary degree of consensus on some of the issues.

About a year ago, I had the privilege of sharing a platform with Sir Kevin Tebbit, at that time chair of Finmeccanica, and previously the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence. He and I were both pleading for greater priority to be given to design and technology. I still think that there is a gap between the Committee’s thinking on that and the Minister’s.

In March last year, I shared a platform with Sir Mark Walport when he was in his role with the Wellcome Trust. Now he is the chief scientific adviser. I urge the Minister to read his speech at that conference. I have it sitting on my desk, so if she cannot find a copy, I will send it to her. He sets out the importance of science practicals, and I hope that we can work strongly together on things like that. There is a huge amount of agreement. Let us carry on working together and ensure that we do justice to the students in our schools and deliver world-class engineers for our world-class manufacturing sector.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting adjourned.