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STEM Subjects

Volume 633: debated on Monday 11 December 2017

5. What steps the Government are taking to encourage pupils to take up science, technology, engineering and maths. (902847)

The Government are committed to tackling our long-term shortage of STEM skills in order to grow the workforce that we need for a dynamic economy. An additional £406 million for maths, digital and technical education was announced in the Budget, including a new post-16 maths premium and a new £84 million programme to improve the teaching of computing, both of which aim to encourage the increased take-up of STEM subjects.

Children in England are benefiting from the Government’s focus on STEM subjects, but does the Secretary of State agree that all children in the UK should be encouraged to study such subjects? A shortage of STEM teachers in Scotland risks undermining children’s opportunities, including at Inverurie Academy in my constituency.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Scottish Government have failed to deliver better education standards across the board for Scottish children. In fact, looking at Scotland’s PISA results, standards dropped across all testing areas between 2012 and 2015. That is the Scottish Government’s legacy for their children. Scotland is behind England in science, maths and reading, which is a shocking indictment.

At last week’s meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on the UK oil refining sector, I met several young ambassadors who had excellent suggestions for encouraging young people to study STEM subjects. One suggestion was that Ofsted should measure the number of engineers that schools produce, rather than how many of their pupils go to university. Will the Secretary of State consider that?

We are moving in the right direction. The hon. Lady is right to make a point about the pipeline, which means not just better grades at GCSE, but more young people taking A-level maths—now the most popular A-level. We want that to carry on into university and then into careers. We have actually seen a 20% increase in the number of girls taking STEM A-levels, but there is much work to be done.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be aware of the excellent support that we have been given in Haywards Heath by the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), in helping to reopen the sadly closed Haywards Heath sixth-form college. Does the Secretary of State realise that that college would be the perfect location for a STEM college in south-east England?

My right hon. Friend raises an interesting proposal, and I am pleased that he is working so effectively with the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills. We need not only to improve our investment in STEM, but to change young people’s perceptions of STEM so that they can see what a fascinating career can lie ahead after doing STEM subjects at A-level and, critically, STEM degrees. That is how we can steadily continue to change the situation for the better.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will know that STEM teachers in Scotland need a university-level qualification in a STEM subject, so we have retained the professionalism. However, my question is about getting girls into STEM. As we approach Christmas, the gender stereotyping in toys is simply depressing, with boys being presented with technical toys while girls are expected to become pretty home makers—even Lego is making the distinction, with princess Lego sets. What representations is the Secretary of State making to toy manufacturers and retailers to ensure that gender-neutral toys are promoted and that girls are encouraged into STEM?

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills will shortly be holding a roundtable on such issues, but she should focus more broadly on the underlying strategy of getting more young girls and women into STEM careers. The good news is that the number of women accepted on to STEM undergraduate courses increased in England by 25% since 2010.