Semta's Chief Executive Ann Watson shares her views on the latest news, policy, issues and events of interest to the engineering and advanced manufacturing sector. 


Thursday, 25 August 2016 00:00

Keeping more girls in STEM post-GCSE must be a priority

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It's been a bit of a mixed bag of a GCSE results day from the point of view of engineering, but then it's been a bit of a mixed bag all round – the headline is that achievement is falling across the board, with resits accounting for some but not all of the drop. We have seen some modest decreases in A* and A grade achievement, and in the key A*-C measure on which schools are judged it's variable, with Engineering seeing a rise (to 40.7%, from 40.3%) and Design & Technology almost static (60.9%, from 60.8%) but Mathematics (down to 61.0%, from 63.3%) and Physics (down to 90.9%, from 92.0%) seeing falls.

This is the last time A*-C achievements will be used as the key measure of a school's success. From January next year, the new Progress 8 measure will show how well schools are doing at helping all of their pupils to make progress. It will be a relative measure, so we will be able to see in which parts of the country and at which types of school our young people are making the strongest progress in STEM subjects. We want an engineering sector which is welcoming to young people from all backgrounds, so we will be watching with interest to see where the very best is being brought out of STEM pupils and where more work will need to be done.

As everybody knows, there remains a big gender gap in engineering. Only 22% of the workforce in our sector is female and, although the gap has been slowly narrowing, the perception of engineering as an industry 'for the boys' is taking time to shift. That low proportion of females in our sector is connected to the fact that there are also big gender gaps when it comes to take-up of STEM subjects at A Level, in apprenticeships and at degree level. Just 15.8% of engineering and technology undergraduates are female and nearly four times as many male students took Physics at A Level this year as did females. The proportion of engineering apprenticeships started by females, at just 3.8%, is scandalously low – we need to strengthen careers information, advice and guidance so that all young people are being encouraged to consider all of their post-GCSE options.

However, more girls took GCSE Mathematics this year than did boys, and almost as many girls took Physics as did boys. We need to ask ourselves, as a sector, why this is and what we can do to encourage more of those girls to go on to study Physics, Mathematics and other STEM subjects (including Engineering, where the gender gap is among the biggest at GCSE level). A colleague of mine did this just last week and at Semta we are always on the lookout for examples of good practice from employers and other groups to see how we can best enthuse girls about a career in our sector. If you know of an employer, individual or group doing good things in this area, please do get in touch – and perhaps even consider entering them into the diversity category of our Semta Skills Awards for 2017.

Read 2566 times Last modified on Tuesday, 30 August 2016 09:14