From education to employment

Sector response to overcoming girls’ misconceptions of science, technology, engineering and mathematics #STEM subjects

New data published for the first time today (11 Feb) by the Department of Education, “Attitudes towards STEM subjects by gender at KS4” shows school girls in England are substantially less likely than boys to consider taking STEM subjects at A Level than boys.

Whilst the number of girls taking STEM A Levels has increased by 26% since 2010, the research shows 15-year-old boys are more likely than girls to see STEM subjects as being useful when it comes to getting a job and that girls are less likely to consider a STEM subject as their favourite.

Nick GibbSpeaking on International Day of Women and Girls in Science, School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said:

“There is growing demand for STEM skills, particularly for sectors such as engineering, construction and manufacturing, and it’s essential that gender is no barrier to ensuring that all young people have the knowledge and skills to succeed in our outward looking and dynamic economy.

“We’ve made considerable progress in increasing girls’ participation in STEM subjects since 2010, with the proportion of girls taking STEM A Levels increasing by a quarter, and 25% more women accepted onto full-time STEM undergraduate courses.”

“We are determined to continue this trend, and that’s why we are funding programmes to increase the take up of maths, computing and physics, and have reformed the school curriculum to make sure it meets the needs of employers.

“This research, however, shows that certain misconceptions are still prevalent, and we all have a part to play, including parents and teachers, to dispel misconceptions about STEM subjects and help encourage our scientists of future generations.”

Sheila Flavell 100x100Sheila Flavell, COO at FDM Group and Chair of the Advisory Board for the IoC comments:

“It’s a travesty that the uptake of STEM-related subjects is so heavily divided by gender, particularly at a time when businesses are crying out for more expertise in this area.  

“This problem requires a concerted effort, with teachers and businesses working together to eradicate the perception that that STEM-subjects and fields of work are a ‘boys-only club’. It’s also vital that we encourage girls to recognise the exciting opportunities and exciting careers that STEM subjects can offer anyone, regardless of their gender.

“The ever-increasing digital skills gap and demand for tech and science professionals is further proof that we must act now to spark interest in this area. Doing so will drive our digital economy forward and open up new opportunities for future generations of young women.”

Peter Finegold 100x100Peter Finegold, Head of Education and Skills at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:

“Our ‘Never too Late’: Profiling Female Engineering Apprentices report shows women who choose engineering are more likely to be ‘accidental all-rounders’ who are more open to a range of career options and tend to make decisions later. This is an important consideration, for if we are to reach out to more young women to pursue a STEM career, we can’t only promote STEM to those who put the subjects at the absolute top of the list. We need to make it easier for girls who rank STEM as second or third favourite too.”

The research published today is based on a survey taken by 10,010 15-year-olds in 2015, as part of a longitudinal study. It shows:

  • Girls enjoy STEM subjects less than boys: The proportion of male pupils who ranked KS4 STEM subjects first for enjoyment was almost twice that for females: 59% vs. 32%.
  • Girls are less likely to say STEM is their best subject: When asked which subject they were best at, the proportion of male pupils who ranked a STEM subject first was 60%, which again was almost twice as high compared to females at 33%.
  • Boys are more likely to think STEM leads to a job: When asked about which subjects were most likely to lead to a future job, 69% of male pupils ranked a STEM subject first compared to 51% of females.
  • Girls and boys both name STEM as leading to highest paid jobs: When asked which would lead to the highest paid job, 81% of male pupils named a STEM subject compared to 77% of females.
  • Girls are less likely to pursue STEM at A level: When asked what they planned to study at A-Level, female pupils made up the minority of those naming STEM subjects. Particularly, in Engineering (14% / 86%), Computing (15% / 85%) and Physics (22% / 78%).

Home Office research shows 60% the roles on its shortage list are in the STEM sector while the 2017 Employer Skills Survey found that there is significant demand for skilled and qualified professionals in IT and engineering, as well as a need for complex numerical and statistical skills.

Since 2010, the number of women accepted onto full-time STEM undergraduate courses increased by 25% and women accounted for 54% of UK STEM postgraduates.

We have invested in programmes to encourage take up in STEM-related subjects and courses, including announcing substantial spending commitments in the Autumn Budget 2017 on maths, digital and technical education.

We are funding programmes in schools and colleges:

  • to increase the take-up of maths (such as the Advanced Maths Premium), computing and physics;
  • to support better teaching of maths, science and computing in schools, including a new £84m programme to improve computing teaching

We are also raising awareness of the range of careers that STEM qualifications offer, through programmes such as STEM ambassadors. 44% of the ambassadors are women.

We are taking steps to engage with the sector through Apprenticeships and using the employer Apprenticeships Diversity Champions Network to champion gender representation in industries where improvement is needed.

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