Speech

Inspiring young people to take up science, technology, engineering and maths.

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Matthew Hancock talks about what government is doing to inspire young people to take up science, technology, engineering and maths.

Thanks, Tina, it’s a pleasure to be here.

This first STEMtech conference couldn’t have come at a better time.

There has never been a greater focus in government on inspiring young people - especially young women - to take up science, technology, engineering and maths.

Sky-reaching, boundary-smashing, future-shaping disciplines that from Newton to Berners-Lee have made Britain great. And made the world a better place to live.

I want to talk to you today about how we’re doing this; working closely with business and industry to make the education system more rigorous and responsive, so that it truly delivers for young people, for employers and for our growing economy.

As we know, the STEM disciplines are the heartbeat of the modern world, leaving no field untouched. From agriculture to aviation, the analytical and problem-solving skills they develop are becoming more valuable than ever in a fast-changing, global economy.

And nowhere is this more true than in Britain.

As the link between education and economic success grows, people with good STEM skills are more in demand in this country than elsewhere - as reflected in the higher earnings premium that these disciplines command here.

And there are many more opportunities to come. High-skilled, high-paid jobs in science-based roles and engineering are set to boom.

With a relatively flexible labour market that increasingly reflect the skills available, Britain has a good chance of winning these jobs if we drive up standards in STEM.

This vision of a richer pool of talent from top to bottom, from technicians to statisticians to physicians will not only lure companies to locate here and breed entirely new businesses, but, crucially, will help all young people, whatever their background.

Yet despite these incredible opportunities, we’re facing skill shortages that are expected to intensify as the economy recovers.

Nearly 2 in 5 firms (39%) can’t find the STEM talent they need, according to a CBI/Pearson survey carried out last year, with a similar proportion expecting these problems to persist over the next 3 years.

With unemployment falling the challenge will intensify.

But this is also an opportunity. For the sake of young people who want to work and get on. And for employers who want to give them that chance and grow. We must seize that opportunity.

To do this, we need to go back to where it all begins - education.

Around the world, from Singapore to Shanghai, evidence shows that education reform can drive up standards.

There is no magic formula to their success. Just an unwavering belief in excellence and a refusal to let any child - disadvantaged or not - fall behind.

And it’s precisely in this spirit of high aspirations and high standards for all that we’re reforming education across the board.

How? By increasing the rigour and responsiveness of the system, so that young people are better equipped with skills and qualifications employers value – and that, in many cases, employers have helped shape.

So, we’re strengthening the curriculum and making both academic and vocational qualifications more stretching - and at last ending the dumbing down that has cheated employers and young people for too long.

So the new primary maths curriculum, coming in this year, will provide children with a better grounding in the basics, like arithmetic and fractions – a stronger foundation for more advanced study later on.

Pupils will be taught to code and programme from the age of five under the new computing curriculum; to become active creators rather than passive users of software. Taught not how to use IT not how to use IT but how to write it.

GCSEs and A Levels in maths and the sciences will become more demanding, with more maths included in the new science GCSEs and top universities contributing to tougher science A Levels.

We’re also boosting STEM teaching; providing scholarships and bursaries to recruit top maths, science and computing graduates into the profession. And, from this September, bringing over teachers from Shanghai to improve maths.

Because the bottom line is that a good standard in maths, as well as English, is the bare minimum employers expect.

And while, astonishingly, we have the lowest percentage of young people continuing maths to 18, now for the first time, from this year, students who don’t get a grade C or above at GCSE in maths and English will have to continue studying them. Failure is no longer an option.

But we also want to encourage those with good passes to keep studying maths; supported by new 16-18 core maths qualifications, starting in 2015, and by the TeccBacc.

Maths is a major part of this ambitious new performance measure and - alongside English - of traineeships that give young people extra support to prepare for work.

Higher standards in both of these subjects are also fundamental to reformed, higher quality apprenticeships.

With employers - many from STEM sectors - in the driving seat, apprenticeships are taking off as never before and providing a world-class route into STEM careers - as young people are quickly noticing.

Hence the record numbers we’re seeing in apprenticeships. And the massive 48% jump in applications - with a big and very welcome increase in women applying.

Having employed my own apprentice last year and taken on two more this year, I’m pleased to be doing my bit to boost these fantastic figures - which are on course to hit two million apprenticeship starts over this Parliament.

Against this background we are starting to see our education reforms beginning to pay off.

Take-up of GCSE physics, is at a record level - up 33% on 2010. A record number of girls are studying physics.

We’re also seeing record numbers taking maths, further maths and physics at A level - a 15% rise since 2010.

We now need to translate the strides made by girls at GCSE to A level.

Only 19% of girls with A* GCSE physics went on to study it at A level compared to 49% of boys, so we need to keep up the pace.

To do this and really raise our game, we have to open young people’s eyes to what they can do with good STEM skills. With where these skills can take them - which is, of course, wherever they want.

Which means tackling cultural blocks head-on.

Cultural blocks, including the outrage of well educated grown-ups casually boasting about “being useless at maths”.

Cultural blocks that often still equate success in maths and science with an image of a man - a man - in a white coat.

The truth is that STEM skills open doors to almost every field - and pay better than most other careers - 19% more than the average.

Endless opportunities. More money. Better job security.

We need to shout these things to the rooftops when plugging STEM.

And you can help too. Inspiring careers advice and role models are pivotal. New statutory guidance requires schools and colleges to open up, to work more closely with employers who themselves are passionate about their careers.

We’re working towards a bigger role for the National Career Service to drive this closer engagement.

We’re also working closely with businesses to back ventures like the STEM Ambassadors programme and National Science and Engineering Week and boosting female take-up by supporting the Stimulating Physics Network and the Further Maths Support Programme.

I urge you to get involved.

Conclusion

So we’re on the right track.

Improving young people’s prospects and those of our growing economy by championing STEM skills and industry input as never before.

Record numbers are taking up STEM subjects and doing STEM-related apprenticeships as we restore rigour and responsiveness to the education system.

Tapping into talents they didn’t know they had and reaping the rewards.

Spurring us to rediscover the ambition that powered yesterday’s industrial revolution to meet today’s information revolution and the revolutions to come.

There’s much to still do. And it is incumbent on us to ensure that the next generation of Newtons and Berners-Lee will dazzle and confound. Blazing a trail to a brighter future.

Thank you.