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STEM Subjects

Volume 593: debated on Monday 2 March 2015

6. What assessment she has made of recent trends in the number of pupils taking up STEM subjects. (907789)

Record numbers of students are taking mathematics and the sciences at A-level—15% more students took physics in 2014 than in 2010. Maths is now the single most popular A-level, with an increase of 13% since 2010, but more needs to be done. We need even more young people to take these subjects at A-level. That is why we are supporting the Your Life campaign headed by Edwina Dunn of Dunnhumby, which aims to increase the numbers taking maths and physics A-level by 50% over the next three years.

When I visit engineering companies in Redditch, I find that one of their main issues is attracting apprenticeships or graduates, especially women. Does my hon. Friend agree that along with the take-up of STEM subjects, we need to encourage students to see that careers in engineering are a great choice for all?

Indeed. We want all young people to have the right careers advice so that they take informed decisions about their future and so that they are aware of all the options available—including, as my hon. Friend said, apprenticeships—and of the advantages that studying maths and the sciences to A-level can bring.

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating students from the William Allitt school in my constituency, who have been shortlisted as finalists in the national science and engineering competition, The Big Bang UK young scientists and engineers fair at Birmingham NEC from 11 to 14 March? This is the UK’s biggest celebration of technology, engineering and maths for young people.

I am pleased to add my congratulations to students from the William Allitt school. The national science and engineering competition, which receives £350,000 of funding from the Government, is an excellent example of a positive initiative that helps to promote and to recognise achievement in STEM subjects. I wish my hon. Friend’s constituents every success in the final stage of the competition, and I look forward to attending the Big Bang fair next week.

Recent research found that more than a third of schools in Newcastle do not offer triple science at GCSE. Newcastle has a thriving digital and information and communications technology hub, and a history of fantastic scientific achievement such as the recent mitochondrial breakthrough. What is the Minister doing to make sure that every pupil in Newcastle can access triple science if they have the talent to do so?

I share the hon. Lady’s desire that every school should offer three separate sciences at GCSE; that is very important. That is why the EBacc is such an important measure. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we have seen a 70% increase in the numbers taking those core academic subjects, which are vital to keeping opportunities open for young people.

The Minister says that he wants more young people to be taking maths and science subjects, but does he acknowledge that there is a chronic shortage of teachers applying for STEM subjects? Why has that happened, and what action are the Government taking to reverse this serious problem for young people and for the wider economy?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. That is why the Prime Minister recently announced a new £67 million package of measures over the next five years to increase the skills and subject knowledge of 15,000 existing maths and physics teachers and to recruit an additional 2,500 teachers over the course of the next Parliament. As the hon. Gentleman will know, bursaries of up to £25,000 are available to trainee teachers with high degrees in maths and physics. As he will also know, some 17% of teacher trainees now hold a first-class degree and 73% of current trainee teachers hold a 2:1 degree or higher.

The excellent new curriculums for computing and for design and technology can do much to inspire young people to take up STEM subjects, but further to the Minister’s last answer, can he reassure me that we recruit enough teachers to teach these important subjects?

I can provide my hon. Friend with that reassurance. We are offering generous bursaries, including in computer science, to attract the highest quality graduates into teaching.