Skip to main content

STEM Subjects

Volume 607: debated on Monday 7 March 2016

The Government are determined to make Britain the best place in the world to study science, technology, engineering and maths. Our reforms to the curriculum and qualifications are designed to raise standards to match the best internationally. Our networks of maths hubs and science learning partnerships are supporting schools with the aim of improving the quality of maths and science teaching, and a £67 million package will train up to 17,500 maths and physics teachers by 2020.

In my constituency, there are a number of new skilled and well-paid jobs in engineering, space, renewable energy and other highly skilled, high-tech sectors, including the Navy. What further message can I take back to employers to assure them that schools have the resources and expertise to inspire and prepare our young people for these jobs in west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and what more can the Department do to ensure that we have the engineers we need as a nation for the future?

My hon. Friend, as a member of the Science and Technology Committee, is a keen advocate of the high-tech sector and particularly of the Goonhilly satellite earth station in Cornwall. He is right to share the Government’s determination to improve STEM skills in this country. That is why the Government fund the Cornwall and West Devon maths hub and the Cornwall science learning partnership, which provide support to schools in west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to improve maths and scientific education. We are also reforming technical and professional education and taking steps to improve the quality of careers advice to young people.

8. Families for schools does an excellent job arranging for business people to visit schools to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs, including science and technology entrepreneurs. Will the Secretary of State outline plans to engage more business people with more schools to encourage more young people to help build our enterprise economy, particularly in science and technology? (903903)

That is precisely what is happening. The local enterprise partnerships are working closely with the careers and enterprise companies because we want to ensure that there is a connection between employers and schools so that a generation of young people inspired by technology can get to know what jobs are available in the technology sector, where, incidentally, earnings are on average 19% higher than for those not working in that sector.

Does the Minister agree that no Prime Minister was more passionate about science, technology and mathematics and their power to liberate individuals’ potential than Harold Wilson? Does he further agree that Harold Wilson set up the Open University and all those polytechnics that became our new universities in order to help in that process of changing our culture? Can we not now liberate the universities to do more in partnership with schools to get this culture change that Harold Wilson worked so hard to achieve?

The hon. Gentleman seemed to get a bigger cheer for mentioning Harold Wilson than he would have done if he had mentioned the current leader of the Labour party. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, about the importance of inspiring young people. University technical colleges have been established to do precisely that, and we have seen a huge increase in the number of young people taking STEM A-levels, with the number taking maths A-level going up by 18% so that some 82,000 young people are now taking it. It has become the single most popular A-level choice, while both physics and chemistry A-level entries have increased by 15%.

We currently have a situation in which the income threshold for non-EU workers could be raised to £35,000, which will cause issues for many STEM teachers currently working in UK schools, as well as for teachers that could be recruited from abroad. Will the Minister explain to schools that have gaping holes in STEM teaching positions how he is working with the Home Office to ensure that we can continue to recruit from abroad?

As the hon. Lady will know, there is a consultation taking place with the Home Office on these very issues, and it will report in due course.

One of the traditional problems with getting more students to study STEM subjects has been the difficulty of persuading girls to take such subjects up to A-level and beyond. Does the Minister have any evidence to show that policies to encourage more girls to take up these very important subjects are working?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government recently set out an ambition to see a 20% increase in the number of girls’ entries to science and maths A-levels by 2020. We established, with industry, the Your Life campaign, which is designed to encourage young people, and especially girls, to choose maths and physics. We have seen a huge increase in the number of girls taking A-levels in physics, from 5,800 in 2010 to 6,800 this year, and in maths, from 28,000 in 2010 to 31,000 this year. However, there is still more to do.

In Stoke-on-Trent, we have decided to do something about the crisis in maths teaching. Will the Minister congratulate inspiring head teachers Roisin Maguire and Mark Stanyer, along with the city council and the Denise Coates Foundation, on establishing the £1 million maths excellence partnership, which was opened by Sir Michael Wilshaw last week to attract maths graduates to Stoke and to support the continuing professional development of current classroom teachers?

I am delighted to join the hon. Gentleman in passing on my congratulations. It is good to see inspirational, imaginative and innovative programmes that are designed to encourage more young people with science backgrounds to come into teaching.