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STEM Subjects

Volume 651: debated on Monday 17 December 2018

The Government’s industrial strategy specifically targets STEM shortage skills. Between 2012 and 2018, entries to A-level maths rose by 25%. It is now the most popular A-level. Exam entries for GCSE computer science have increased from 2013, when it was first examined, from just over 4,000 to more than 70,000 in 2018. That is in part down to the £7.2 million funding that is going into maths hubs. A number of programmes have given STEM a real drive in schools and further education.1

I recently co-hosted a STEM workshop in Crieff High School in my constituency with the support of the Royal Navy. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to talk about what education opportunities we can provide across the United Kingdom working with educational institutions, the Ministry of Defence, the Department for International Development and the National Citizen Service?

Well done to Crieff High School, the NCS, DFID and the Royal Navy. There is no doubt that weaving education into life jobs and everything we do with young people is how we get results. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend any time.

When I visit STEM businesses in my constituency, I often ask how many of their apprentices are women. They say that there are not enough coming through the pipeline, the same excuse for why they do not have female directors. What is the Minister doing to increase the take-up by women and girls of STEM subjects?

My hon. Friend is right that, without doubt, gender stereotypes affect what young girls do. Those stereotypes are changing because we are making sure that we change them. For instance, since 2010 we have seen 26% more women entering STEM A-levels. However, we recognise that the take-up for physics is notably low and we have put money into the Stimulating Physics Network. I praise hon. Members who have taken part in the Year of Engineering. We know that at primary school girls and boys have similar levels of interest in STEM subjects, but that that tails off quite substantially at secondary school. We are doing research to understand that better.[Official Report, 20 December 2018, Vol. 651, c. 5MC.]

Students from Coleg Gwent had great success recently at the WorldSkills UK competition, including a gold in forensic science, which is a great advert for taking up STEM subjects. Will the Minister join me in congratulating all Welsh students and colleges who did fantastically well across the board in that UK-wide competition?

Yes, I am very happy to join the hon. Lady in congratulating them. Right hon. and hon. Members who do not know anything about WorldSkills should take a look—it is fantastic. I am disappointed that the Scottish Government have chosen not to put in any money, despite its success. WorldSkills is a way of showcasing exactly what young people can achieve.

I was about to thank the Minister for her positive comments about STEM, however I should point out that the Scottish Government properly fund further education. STEM careers are still not attracting enough young people and we have a continuing need to tap into Europe’s talent streams. Does the Minister share my concern that limited uptake of STEM subjects, now coupled with potential restrictions on EU nationals based on salary, is a serious issue? What discussions has she had with the Home Secretary on keeping the EU talent pipeline open?

It is extremely important that we use talent from wherever it comes. I reiterate that I am disappointed at the Scottish Government for refusing my invitation to put some money into WorldSkills. This is an opportunity to boost engineering careers and choices, particularly for women. I am disappointed in the Scottish Government’s attitude.