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House of Commons Hansard
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01 December 2014
Volume 589
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4. What steps she is taking to promote the study of STEM subjects at school. [906333]

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Under this Government we have seen record numbers taking STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—with maths now being the most popular A-level. That is due to excellent teaching and several supporting programmes, but of course more needs to be done. We have reformed qualifications and the curriculum; we are recruiting top graduates into teaching with increased bursaries and scholarships; we have established maths hubs; and, as I have mentioned, we have the Your Life campaign to change young people’s perceptions of science and mathematics.

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What steps is the Secretary of State taking to make sure that business and education come together and talk to each other to ensure that we match up supply and demand for skills in the engineering sector?

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My hon. Friend is right. I have previously said from this Dispatch Box that the estimates are that we need 83,000 more engineers every year for the next 10 years, and I have also said that they cannot all be male. That is why campaigns such as Your Life and other things such as tomorrow’s engineers week, which the Government are already supporting, are extremely important. I continue to look at all the best ways that businesses, schools and educators can work together to make sure that our young people are prepared for life in modern Britain.

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The Secretary of State is aware that the earlier we can start loving numeracy, the better—it is so important. She was not there, but only last week one of her junior Ministers was with me, the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) and Johnny Ball to launch the early years numeracy strategy that came out of our all-party group. Will the Secretary of State put a bit of muscle behind that?

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Well, I’ll think of a number! The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that this Government will put their weight behind the campaign to get more of our young people studying maths subjects and studying them to a higher level. We have already introduced the maths hubs, and are supporting teacher exchange programmes with places such as Shanghai, which are already leading the way in maths education. We are seeing more of our young people doing better at maths earlier, and, as the hon. Gentleman says, that is absolutely critical.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that Fiona Kendrick, chief executive officer of Nestlé in my constituency, is providing inspirational leadership? She is leading the campaign to get more science, technology, engineering and maths into schools so that more young people, especially young women, can enter the fields of engineering and technology. Such an inspirational change will improve the quality of education in this country.

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I agree with my hon. Friend and welcome Fiona Kendrick’s comments on the need to bridge the gap between education and employment and the need for industry to play its part. I think I was with my hon. Friend when I visited Bombardier, which is also in her constituency, and met the fabulous Kirsten, who is doing incredibly well as an apprentice welder.

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It may be a “Blue Peter” link to say that I was at primary school in Heston with Zoë Ball. Very recently, I was talking to Heston residents about the opportunities for young people in the local economy, which is full of light industry. Exposure to the world of work at a young age makes a huge difference to confidence. What is the Secretary of State doing to improve work experience opportunities for under-16s in science, technology and maths subjects?

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I agree that work experience is extremely important, and I should like it applied to pupils as young as possible. As a first step, I would like young people to get advice about the jobs that are out there—I am talking about labour market information. But if the hon. Lady’s Government had not introduced so much red tape and so many health and safety regulations, employers might not be so put off taking on people for work experience.