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“A plan to have a plan” – Committee publishes “disappointing” Government response on diversity and inclusion in STEM

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The Science, Innovation and Technology Committee has urged the Government to adopt a more purposeful strategy to improve diversity and inclusion in STEM.

Today, the Committee publishes the Government’s response to its recent report which called for action to address the underrepresentation of women and other groups in STEM.  

In its response the Government said it is preparing a cross-Government action plan, led by the Department for Education, to “drive wider participation in STEM” and see “a more diverse range of people enter the science and technology workforce by 2030”. 

The Chair of the Committee, Greg Clark MP, has said that “without any specific commitments or timings this amounts to a plan to have a plan.” 

The Committee asked the Government to set out a plan to deliver the Prime Minister’s maths to 18 ambition and to introduce a similar Core Science option to make it easier for students specialising in humanities to continue to learn more science after the age of 16.

The Government said a plan for the maths ambition will come “later this year” – the aim having first been announced in January this year. It also said there are “no plans” to set a similar target for science.

The Government did not fully engage with the Committee’s conclusion that the current package to attract maths and STEM teachers is not “anywhere near sufficient” to address the crisis in recruitment for physics and computer science teachers. 

Chair of the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, said:

“The lack of diversity at all levels in science, technology, engineering and maths is a well recognised and longstanding problem. Our report called for urgent measures to reverse the comparative lack of students from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue STEM. 

“It is disappointing the Government has not taken forward our recommendations, including to update the national curriculum with more diverse examples of notable scientists. 

“The Government has said it is preparing a cross-Government action plan, but without any timings or commitments this amounts to a plan to have a plan. At some point action and representation at ministerial level will be needed. 

“Without a clear strategy to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM it will be harder for the Government to achieve its ambition for science, innovation and technology to power the economy.

“We remain concerned and will continue to press the Government for action in this area.”

Sector Response

Dr James Poskett, Associate Professor in the History of Science and Technology at the University of Warwick, who contributed evidence to the inquiry, comments:

“The underrepresentation of minority ethnic groups in the STEM workforce is a direct consequence of a longer history of racism and exclusion in STEM. To address the lack of diversity in STEM today, we need a better understanding of the history of science and technology.

“Leading scientific institutions, such as the Royal Society, invested in the slave trade and promoted scientific racism. Research councils, such as the Medical Research Council, were directly supported by the Colonial Office.

“The national curriculum fails to present diverse historical role models. Students studying GCSE Physics or Biology learn about famous white British scientists, such as Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. But they do not learn about the many important contributions made by scientists from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, or the Americas.

“I share the opinion of the Chair of the Science, Technology, and Innovation Committee that the Government response to the enquiry is inadequate. The UK Government needs to present a detailed timeline of actions designed to address these specific historical legacies to improve diversity in STEM. A generic commitment to diversity and investing in STEM will not suffice.”

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