STEM ‘A’ levels pick up

Posted on 15 Nov 2010 by The Manufacturer

The National Audit Office has published a report showing improvement in the take-up of A-level maths and GCSE science.

The National Audit Office (NAO) report (published November 12) on the progress being made by the Department for Education (DoE) in boosting STEM subjects has returned positive results for A-level maths and triple award science at GCSE level, a trend which lays necessary knowledge foundations for bridging the skills gap between British industrial ambitions and current skills capacity. Sector Skills Council for manufacturing and engineering technologies, Semta, has identified the need for 187,000 new industry recruits before 2016 if the UK manufacturing is to be credible as a global competitor in advanced manufacturing markets.

There is evidence that pupils taking triple science GCSE are more likely than those studying combined science to choose science subjects at A-Level and to achieve higher grades and this bolstering of STEM skills at level two and three will make the necessary abilities available for the training of skilled technicians, the work-force segment most urgently required for competitive manufacturing growth. However, there is still considerably scope for improving these prospects further as by June 2009, almost half of secondary schools still did not offer Triple Science.

Furthermore, although improved take-up of A-level maths is in excess of DoE targets for 2014, there was a disappointing inability on the part of science teachers to attract more young people onto A-level physics and it was found that improvements to school science facilities were generally lacking. Until recently, the DoE had a target to ensure that all school laboratories were up to a good or excellent standard by 2010. However, it did not collect routine data to measure progress against this target, and the most recent research available found that science facilities were inadequate in around a quarter of secondary schools.

Take-up of initiatives to encourage pupils to study science and to improve achievement is high, although there are regional variations and a small number of schools are not accessing any. Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said on Friday: “The Department for Education has focused its resources on improving pupil take-up and achievement in school science and maths, and has made good progress in areas such as A-Level maths and GCSE Triple Science. To make further progress, what’s needed is a more joined-up approach, bringing together key success factors into more coherent pathways that maximize successful results and efficient use of public resources.”

The NAO report on the take-up of STEM subjects at level two and three focuses on mainstream, traditional education routes and there does not yet appear to be any aligned analysis of simultaneous increases in the numbers of vocational STEM related qualifications being taken by young people. While the NAO report is useful and highlights key areas where further effort is required in the promotion of STEM subjects in schools, a more holistic report incorporating information on the swelling of apprenticeship options and other vocational qualifications might be beneficial to those concerned with the future of industry skills.