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Decline in Maths will hit STEM hard

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Tough Choices report reveals engagement with Maths and Science declines by 74% among girls and 56% among boys during secondary school.

Just one in eleven young people take Maths and Physics at A Level despite leaving primary school with high levels of interest. Absence of good quality information and advice on job prospects for Maths and Science subjects skews young people’s choices. Theoretical nature of teaching, exam grade pressure and impact of Double and Triple Science subject choice impact on take up of Maths and Physics

Your Life, CBI and leading UK corporations step up efforts to forge better curriculum and careers links in response to findings. A significant knowledge gap on the vital and widespread application of Maths and Science skills is damaging the UK’s future according to a new report developed by A. T. Kearney in partnership with the Your Life campaign and CBI The “Tough Choices” report reveals that the lack of knowledge amongst educators and parents about job prospects for Maths and Science subjects unintentionally results in young people not understanding the skills needed for success in the workplace. The report reveals that currently 45% of young people claim to choose A Levels based on future career aspirations but just 43% have had any formal careers guidance.

Tough Choices also found that this lack of informed advice leads to only a quarter of A Level students taking up two or more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects and only one in eleven studying Maths and Physics. The report demonstrates how society is influencing young people’s decisions at every touch point: schools are geared to reward grades over subject choice, meaning often teachers recommend “harder” Maths and Science subjects only to the “ultra bright”. This is reinforced by parents, leading to a bias against STEM subjects for children who perceive them as “too hard”.

Young people also cited that Maths and Science subjects are too theoretical making it even harder for them to understand how the skills relate to modern life – further deterring them from studying at A Level. Pressure to achieve high A Level grades is resulting in students being influenced to select subjects they expect to do well in rather than the “harder” Maths and Science subjects. The report found that the current education approach to Double and Triple Science choices at GCSE also has a big impact on whether students continue with the subject at A Level. Students who take Double Science are two to three times less likely to continue to go on and study the subject. This is exacerbated by the fact that 60% of students are not empowered to make this choice with schools making the decision on their behalf. [7]

Tough Choices reveals that the combination of all of these factors creates a ‘perfect storm’, meaning levels of engagement with vital STEM skills decline with every year of secondary education. For girls, interest in Maths and Science declines by 74% during their secondary school years, with boys’ engagement in these vital subjects declining by 56% over the same period.

The report advises that without significant change, the current STEM worker shortfall of 40,000 each year will continue, causing the UK economy to fall further behind other nations. As a result of the report, eight leading corporations supporting the Your Life campaign are calling on more businesses to join them and commit to help tackle these problems. The companies, including A.T. Kearney, BAE Systems, Carillion, Ford, Johnson & Johnson, Nestlé UK and Ireland, Rio Tinto and Shell aim to increase engagement between business and schools to promote STEM education, safeguarding the UK’s economic growth by limiting the skills shortage. 

The Your Life campaign is calling for more businesses and institutions to join in improving the connection between the curriculum and careers advice. Businesses must play a more active role in bringing the workplace to the classroom to help educators bring Maths and Physics subjects to life for students. They are urging other corporations to work with the education sector to inform and empower young people on the vital skills acquired from Maths and Physics A Levels, which will result in a more skilled workforce to support the UK’s future economic growth.

Edwina Dunn, entrepreneur and Chair of the Your Life Campaign commented:“Many students are unintentionally left without any knowledge of the skills and careers which follow from learning Maths and Physics. We must act now to reverse a multi-generational decline in STEM uptake in schools and empower young people to gain the skills to do incredible things and make a real difference to their own future and the future of the nation. “It is our goal to help create an environment where Maths and Physics are the highlight of the school day for any student, through practical and innovative techniques which inspire and build confident, skilled young people.”

Paul Drecshler, CBI President, commented:“If the UK economy is to stay strong in the years ahead, then we need young people to get the right skills to build successful careers. A real grounding in science and maths is becoming increasingly important in many high-growth sectors and leads to even more opportunities for young people in the future. Education is a shared passion for government, business, schools and parents – who all want the best for young people – so we hope that the insights in this report will be helpful. As the business community we have a role to play – offering support to teachers and head teachers, inspiring young people and giving up-to-date insights into the world of work.”

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