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STEM Subjects

Volume 680: debated on Wednesday 23 September 2020

We continue to fund numerous programmes to increase girls’ and young women’s take-up of science, technology, engineering and maths subjects. The number of girls’ STEM A-level entries has increased year on year, despite an overall reduction in cohort size. Since 2010, there has been a 31% increase in girls’ entries to STEM A-levels in England and a 34% increase in women accepted on to full-time STEM undergraduate courses in the UK.

We know that the new core maths course is highly regarded for both its accessibility and its pragmatism, and can therefore play a huge part in increasing participation in maths. Can the Minister tell me how we are engaging with female pupils in particular to encourage them to take up this fantastic course?

Our advanced maths support programme, worth £8 million per year, aims to increase the number of girls studying level 3 maths, which includes core maths. Of more than 17,000 students participating in the programme’s events last year, 55% of attendees were female. We will be using research such as our behavioural insight studies to inform future work on how to get more girls studying maths after GCSE.

My constituency is a world-renowned centre of aerospace and defence expertise, so how can the Government help to encourage more women to take up these subjects and apprenticeships in particular so that we can equip the country and them with the skills we need for the future?

Along with the significant measures that I have mentioned on increasing the take-up of STEM subjects among girls and women, we are raising awareness of STEM careers through programmes such as STEM ambassadors, 45% of whom are women. The Department for Education is also taking steps to engage with the sector through apprenticeships. On aerospace specifically, we are supporting industry’s efforts to increase diversity in the sector through the women in aviation and aerospace charter, recognising that a more diverse sector is good for business, customers and workplace culture.

In the UK, female employment in the technology industry stands at 16.7% and has grown by less than 1% in the last 10 years. This is one of the most promising and booming industries, but it is one that women hardly find themselves in. What discussion has the Minister’s Department had with her Cabinet colleagues to provide incentives for technology businesses to employ women?

The Government take this issue very seriously. The Government Equalities Office carries out various studies to encourage women into this sector. We know that there are disparities in gender representation in some sector subject areas. Women still account for, respectively, 6% and 8% of starts in construction, planning and the built environment and in engineering and engineering technologies. This is a space in which we are working very hard. We continue to consult business and I know that my Cabinet colleagues are also working on this issue.