Secretary of State for Education speaks about science and maths at the launch of Your Life campaign.
Thank you for that very kind introduction.
I’m delighted to be here and even more delighted to already have seen not 1, but 3 Your Life posters adorning bus stops over the past weekend.
Today (10 November 2014) marks the unveiling of the Your Life campaign. It marks the end of months of tireless planning by Edwina and her team, and most importantly, it marks the start of a campaign that will make a real difference, not just to young people’s lives, but to the future of our country.
Because the truth is, our world is changing beyond recognition, at a pace unmatched by any other point in history. That change is affecting our country in all sorts of positive ways, but it also means that, to succeed in the global economy, the British workforce of tomorrow has to have the skills and knowledge to compete in that changing world. Even a decade ago, young people were told that maths and the sciences were simply the subjects you took if you wanted to go into a mathematical or scientific career, if you wanted to be a doctor, or a pharmacist, or an engineer.
But if you wanted to do something different, or even if you didn’t know what you wanted to do, and let’s be honest - it takes a pretty confident 16-year-old to have their whole life mapped out ahead of them - then the arts and humanities were what you chose. Because they were useful for all kinds of jobs.
Of course now we know that couldn’t be further from the truth, that the subjects that keep young people’s options open and unlock doors to all sorts of careers are the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and maths.
The skills gained from studying these subjects come in useful in almost any job you could care to name - from the creative and beauty industries to architecture. Even in my former profession: the legal sector is crying out for more science graduates as patent law becomes big business.
That’s why it’s so important that young people are aware of the opportunities these subjects bring. Because they’re not nearly as popular as they should be - In 2011, only 19% of girls who achieved an A* in GCSE physics went on to study it at A level. And whilst the figure for boys is better, it’s still under half.
There’s the same issue with maths. Fewer than two thirds of girls who achieved an A* in maths GCSE went on to study it at A level. And yet maths, as we all know, is the subject that employers value most, helping young people develop skills which are vital to almost any career. And you don’t just have to take my word for it - studies show that pupils who study maths to A level will earn 10% more over their lifetime.
These figures show us that too many young people are making choices aged 15, which will hold them back for the rest of their life.
This government has already made significant progress. At A level, we now have 1,000 more girls studying physics every year - and 2,000 more girls studying maths - compared to 2010. Our most recent A level results show that for the first time maths is now the most popular A level subject, accounting for 10.7% of entries, compared to 10.5% for English. The proportion of A level entries which were in biology, chemistry and physics has increased, too.
But it’s clear that more needs to be done - that’s why I’m so pleased that Your Life, and supporters from the government and the education, business and technology sectors, have come together to help open young people’s eyes to what studying STEM subjects could mean for their future.
Crucially, I know that Edwina and her team have made sure that this hasn’t just been a campaign led by adults, dare I say it - people like me, some years away from having taken their GCSEs - but one led by the 14- to 16-year-olds themselves. They’re the decision-makers here; they’re the ones the campaign needs to reach.
By working with these young people this campaign is going to help dispel the myths about STEM subjects.
Because they’re not stuffy, boring subjects for people who don’t get outdoors much. Far from it - they’re the keys to the most cutting edge, fast-paced areas of work and they’re behind some of the most exciting new developments in this country and around the world.
Nor are they subjects that you can only succeed in if you went to the right school or had the right connections. In fact, quite the opposite - success in the sciences is one of the biggest drivers of social mobility, enabling young people from a range of backgrounds to access highly paid careers and opportunities. That’s why it’s so important that the study of these subjects isn’t just limited to a handful of schools who coach their students - it isn’t just unfair, it’s a waste of talent as well.
And you don’t have to be male to be taken seriously in the STEM industries. As Minister for Women and Equalities, I care deeply about the futures of today’s young women; about their academic choices, about their career successes.
If we want to make the most of half of our workforce, if we want to eliminate the gender pay gap and if we want that same half of the workforce to succeed in jobs that boost our economy, then we must make sure that teenage girls don’t feel, and certainly aren’t told, that certain subjects are the preserve of men.
To tackle those tired stereotypes of careers in STEM subjects, Your Life will be working with businesses from across the country to create opportunities for under-represented groups, including women, to see the benefits of studying STEM first hand and ensure that work experience and apprenticeship opportunities are open to everyone.
They want companies to develop more inclusive workplace cultures, including increased opportunities for flexible working, and supporting those who choose to take a career break. And they’re clear that organisations need to be open and transparent about progression routes to the top jobs.
Over 200 organisations have already responded to the campaign’s call to action and pledged their support. But to make a real difference, we’ve got to change how young people see STEM subjects, well before they start their careers and while they’re still in schools.
Which is why I’m delighted that, here today, I can announce the launch of the Your Life Formula 100 Competition. The competition will set out to find the nation’s most creative and inspiring young minds to speculate on the inventions that would make their dream jobs better. Young people aged 11 to 18 across the UK are invited to submit a short video for the chance to become a member of the Formula 100 club and win some pretty exciting prizes, like the chance to spend a day with the Premier League or the UK Space Agency. Winners will be selected from a judging panel made up of the country’s leading entrepreneurs, and the panel will be looking for the most imaginative and life changing inventions.
All part of Your Life’s specific aim to raise the status of STEM subjects, and increase the number of students studying maths and physics at A level by 50% within 3 years.
And let’s just think about what that means - that’s 50% more highly qualified and skilled young people equipped to take their place in modern Britain, equipped to compete against the best in the world in our increasingly global economy, and equipped to win the top jobs and reap the rewards. An increase that benefits not just them, but our whole country.
So I think the only right way to finish is by reiterating my thanks to Edwina and the Your Life team, to the government officials who have helped them to launch this campaign, to all of the businesses showing their support here today. With your help we can ensure that STEM subjects aren’t just the preserve of a few, that we never tell our young women that certain subjects, jobs and careers aren’t for them, and that the young people of today have the skills to turbo-charge the economy of tomorrow.